Room for Debate: Two Takes on the Recent Iran Deal

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We Could Do Better on Iran

By Adam B. Weber.

While President Obama and other world leaders are busy touting the recent resolution between the P5+1 nations and Iran, there are a growing number of individuals very skeptical about how successful this deal will be in limiting Iran’s nuclear program and promoting peace in the Middle East.  Under this interim resolution, Iran has agreed to refrain from enriching uranium past a level of 5% and from constructing new centrifuges.  In exchange, the UN Security Council has agreed to provide Iran with approximately $7 billion in sanctions relief. 

Admittedly, the deal could have been worse.  It does not provide Iran with full sanctions relief and it will, in theory, limit the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.  Although the deal could have been worse, it could have also been much better.  This accord does nothing to take apart the nuclear infrastructure of Iran, as all 18,000 centrifuges are allowed to remain in tact.  In addition, Iranian leaders left Geneva under the impression that Tehran has the “right” to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.  Proponents of the deal have responded to these concerns by claiming that the international community will perform a series of “intrusive inspections” to certify that Iran is upholding its end of the bargain.  However, very little detail has been provided as to how comprehensive these inspections will be.  Tehran has never been transparent about their nuclear program in the past, and many have trouble believing that the United Nations even knows where to look and what to look for. 

If these inspections are not executed to a tee, it will be relatively easy for Iran to continue enriching uranium under the noses of the international community.  Since the infrastructure will be left untouched, Iran will simply have to “turn on the faucet,” as Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett phrased it.  Benjamin Netanyahu has compared the accord to the agreement with North Korea in 2005, where North Korea continued to enrich uranium despite conditions imposed by the United States.  Israel has threatened to take military action if history repeats itself, which will put the United States in an uncomfortable position where it has to involve itself in yet another Middle Eastern conflict to protect its most strategic ally in the region. 

Considering the leverage and alternatives of both parties entering the negotiations, the P5+1 should have achieved their ultimate goal, which is to dismantle Iran’s entire nuclear program.  For decades, Iran has refused to even consider negotiating with the rest of the world on its nuclear program.  The fact that Iran has agreed to discuss changes with the P5+1 nations indicates that the current sanctions are working.  Iran’s currency has undergone massive devaluation, causing soaring inflation and unemployment throughout the country.  Exports have been cut in half and the nation’s credit has been damaged so badly that it is nearly impossible to borrow money without paying an incredibly high interest rate.  Iran should have been given an either-or decision: either dismantle your entire nuclear infrastructure, including the 18,000 centrifuges, or lose your entire economy.  Given the nature of Iran, it is unlikely that they would have agreed to such an ultimatum so quickly.  In fact, they probably would have walked away without signing any resolution.  So how to bring them back to the negotiating table: dial up the sanctions even more.  Show Iran that the international community is not bluffing and will continue to increase the pressure unless it complies with their requests.  

The latest failure of the U.N. Security Council is less a matter of poor negotiating skills, as it is an externality of politicians’ obsession with public opinion and short-term approval ratings.  Every member of the P5+1 negotiating team had the same end-goal: to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.  However, they also feared the consequences of ending the week’s negotiations with nothing to bring home to their constituents.  The need to accomplish “something,” even if that “something” is less than adequate, is what ultimately pushed this deal through.  Perhaps it is just a symptom of modern-day democratic politics, but this urgency to create short-term stopgaps is what will ultimately prevent the world from constructing long-term solutions. 


Pipe Dreams and the Undue Criticism of the Iran Deal

By Maxime Fischer-Zernin

To state it clearly the Joint Plan of Action will leave the U.S., Israel, and their allies safer in 6 months than they are today. The agreement achieves a tremendous amount in the short-term, most notably Iran’s agreement to convert uranium out of its 20 percent form and to not stockpile new centrifuges. In the long-term, of course, steep challenges still exist. However, the prospect of difficult future negotiations should not deter from the immediate benefits of this interim deal.

To understand the criticism this deal has received from Israel and its proponents, it is important to clarify the divergences of national interest between the United States and Israel. To Israel, a nuclear Iran threatened its very survival. Iran’s violent rhetoric, support for terrorist groups, and proximity to Israel make it a very real threat. For the U.S., however, Iran is one cog in the machinery of international relations. This leads to similar but different goals in negotiations: Obama will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear bomb and is content with limiting Iranian enrichment to 3-5% in the interim, while Israel wants to dismantle the entire Iranian nuclear infrastructure.

But although this temporary deal does not permanently dismantle Iran’s nuclear program—leaving that task to the next step of negotiations—the freeze means that in 6 months Iran will be further away from building a bomb than it is today. And that is news that both Israel and the U.S. should be happy for. After all, the alternatives seem to be ratcheting up sanction and military action, with no assurance that either would do anything more than increase Iran’s determination to get a bomb.

Howard B. Weber, President of the Coalition for Israel, says that “no one wants peace more than Israel – no one,” but it appears this concept of peace conflates a peaceful Iran with a decimated and impoverished one. Couching their objections in nuclear terms, Israel and Saudi Arabia seem more worried by the growth of Iranian as an economic and political power than a nuclear threat (although I acknowledge the links between the two).

From the U.S. perspective, keeping Iran down just isn’t a realistic or desirable long-term goal. It is in America’s national interest to have a Middle Eastern balance of power, in which the U.S. maintains good relations will as many states as possible. “America’s long term interests are best served,” writes Foreign Policy Magazine’s Stephen M. Walt, “by helping reintegrate Iran into the global community, which is likely to strengthen the hand of moderate forces there and make Iran less disruptive in other contexts.”

Further, consider for a moment that while Netanyahu is intent on describing this deal as a defeat, this deal addresses the very threat Netanyahu warned the world about in his September 2012 address to the UN General Assembly where he memorably drew a red line across a bomb. His concerns about a nuclear Iran were and remain well founded, and given that this very deal decreases the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium has, it is draining the uranium right out of Mr. Netanyahu’s bomb. Without this deal Iran would be much closer to crossing that disastrous red line.

Finally, we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the prospect of Iran totally dismantling its nuclear infrastructure any time soon. Joseph Cirincione, member of the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board and the Council on Foreign Relations, explains that Israel “wanted to kill the nuclear baby in the crib … There’s no sanction regime known to man that’s been able to coerce a country into compliance. So if you don’t like negotiating with Iran, what you’re really saying is you want to go to war. We should be clear-eyed about this. We shouldn’t think there’s some better deal out there.” Iran was never going to give the U.S. a miracle deal like Libya did in 2003, when Qaddafi agreed to give up all his WMDs. Rouhani is well aware of how well that worked out for Qaddafi.

Proponents of holding out for the “perfect deal” must realize that if Congress acts unilaterally to increase sanctions, or Israel commits to military action, the result could easily be an acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program and more power to hard-liners. Tougher sanctions has brought Iran to the table, but the strategy denying Iran’s advances and doubling down on sanctions limiting gas and oil production risks convincing Iran’s leaders that it’s now more imperative to develop nuclear energy to meet the needs of the population. Given these uncertain alternatives, this deal is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

The Joint Plan of Action an interim deal with modest steps from both sides that sets the stage for a comprehensive long-term deal. Neither historical success nor capitulating in defeat, it reaps many benefits in the short-term without limiting options in the long term. If anything, it legitimizes a broader range of actions in the future. Opponents should acknowledge the benefits of such a deal, and we should all applaud this shift from loaded rhetoric to engaged diplomacy.

The art of compromise is a messy and protracted business, and sometimes the results seem inconclusive. But if the U.S. and its allies hope to make any progress of important and legitimate issues, such as Iran’s support from Hezbollah, the establishment of diplomatic links with Iran is key, and this deal is a necessary first step.



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