The Promise of the Iran Deal
Having been asked about the deal between Iran and the P5+1, I will note there are both positive aspects and areas for concern. First, the good.
I am rather impressed that a deal was reached at all. If Iran was dead-set on building a nuclear weapon, nothing short of military attack would have stopped such development. Only Israel would have been willing to do so, and quite frankly the window on such an attack being effective closed several years ago. The US will not invade Iran. There is nothing sufficiently compelling for us to incur the costs of such an attack and occupation. Even an Iranian nuclear weapon and the prospect of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Saudi Arabia would not justify invasion to the American public. There is simply no appetite for it. Nor is there any among America’s allies. Iran is aware of this, regardless of the rhetoric Iranian hardliners like to spout out. That probably helped with the deal, though I speculate. Iran has proven time and again it is skilled at being an aggravating and non-constructive negotiating partner when that suits its interests. Previous negotiations have served more to protect Iran’s nuclear military potential than to remove it. This deal is far more reflective of a shift of Iranian interest perception than anything the P5+1 could say.
Next, please note that sanctions are the first hard step taken in the modern world for modifying an international state actor’s behavior. In this case, the pain helped drive negotiations. However, sanctions are nothing more than a tool. Only the behavior modification matters. In this case, Iran remaining a non-nuclear military power.
Having established this point, let us consider the deal. First, the only thing that is certain at this time is the Joint Statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. It looks good. It commits to create a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by June 30th based on relegating Fordow to research status, enrichment only at Natanz and at a level to be agreed-upon but limited, and the modification of the Arak reactor to not produce weapons-grade plutonium, with the spent fuel to be exported in any event. All this is to be overseen by IAEA inspectors, and in exchange Iran will receive technical assistance, access to the global nuclear power market, and an end to sanctions imposed due to the nuclear issue. It is a commitment in principle to regularize Iran as a non-nuclear military power within the civilian nuclear power community. That would fair and an excellent outcome.
However, the White House has also put out a fact sheet that has been criticized by Mr. Zarif. There seems little need to comment on it at this time. It must be remembered that the deal process is a negotiation, with many constituencies. Furthermore, President Obama has displayed an impressively tin ear in the past in dealing with the sensitivities of many people and groups across both the United States and around the world. It may be that this “fact sheet” is indeed misleading, perhaps for domestic political purposes. The right wing on Congress is certainly reserved to a deal and seemingly following the lead of Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is staunchly opposed. However, it is difficult to see how being caught lying to the public would help a deal gain Republican support. I can more readily suspect that the “fact sheet” reflects an optimistic understanding-in-principle from the negotiations that should have been kept confidential until the final agreement is reached. Iran has its own right wing opposed to the deal, and Mr. Zarif is well aware of it.
Ultimately, this deal should be considered a promising work in progress. When June 30th rolls around we will know if this is a good deal or a foolish one. Expecting the sanctions to be lifted all at once and immediately, for example, would be foolish and unrealistic. They cannot be easily reapplied. However, there is broad will in all concerned nations for this deal to go ahead. I believe it will, and it shall be a good deal. Just hope that the right wing on both sides does not sink it, and that such efforts receive no further aid from anyone, or any White House. The sensibility of the deal will be seen on the 30th.