In the past week, politicians and various experts have been weighing in on the negotiated framework between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) in Lausanne, Switzerland. While the Iranian nuclear deal appears on the surface to be quite an accomplishment, getting to a final agreement is no sure thing.
Some highlights of the deal include implementing an inspection regime, reducing the number of installed centrifuges from 19,000 to about 6,000, imposing limits on enriching uranium beyond a certain level considered crucial for making a bomb, transforming the mission of some existing nuclear installations, and reducing the stockpile of low enriched uranium. All in all, the goal is to prevent the creation of a nuclear bomb. Should Iran act contrary to its commitments, all options remain—including new sanctions or military action.
The major players, Iran and the United States, have been putting their respective spins about the meaning of the announced deal. In Iran, authorities claim that it will signal the immediate end of crippling sanctions. In the United States, the Obama administration argues that the agreement is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and to ensure greater political stability in the region.
Opponents of the agreement have a completely different take. Saudi Arabia remains concerned about Iran’s regional intentions, and the current conflict in Yemen involving the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is doing nothing to alleviate those concerns. Israel’s freshly re-elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has predictably trashed the agreement as a “bad” deal that must not be allowed to occur. He says it is a sure path to a nuclear bomb that could possibly destroy the state of Israel. U.S. Republicans, supportive of Netanyahu, have generally taken the view that Obama is so desperate to sign a deal that he is doing little to protect U.S. national interests.
Meanwhile, the Republican leadership in U.S. Congress is trying to put together veto-proof legislation to essentially have a final say on the end agreement, should one emerge. Clearly, domestic politics on the eve of the 2016 presidential primaries will play an increasingly significant role. Republicans will generally oppose the deal, but some Democrats, including possible future Senate minority leader Charles Schumer, may also question the final outcome. Is the deal dead on arrival?
It is too early to predict any outcome. The initial assessment from various experts is that the framework negotiated is more solid than expected, since it is based on intrusive inspections and verifiable commitments. As Reagan once said: “Trust, but verify!”
Opponents to the deal offer no alternative except criticism and rejection. Some say that sanctions should continue to bring out more concessions from the Iranians. This option is not likely to stand in the light of the current deal. The sanction partners, especially Russia and China, may opt out if the deal is rejected by the American partners. In fact, with the sanctions regime in place, centrifuges have increased from 300 to 19,000.
As for the critics who propose more hawkish measures—such as former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who argues for military action against Iran—there is obviously no appetite for this course of action among the U.S. and its partners. Finally, the failure to reach a deal by June 30, coupled with continued sanctions, will do little to halt Iran’s nuclear program, as we have observed in the past decade.
Both Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have led these negotiations with great skill—and, contrary to what their opponents say, they have not eliminated any options if Iran does not comply. The hope is that once the briefings are done and the details are better assessed, there will be greater consensus and a conclusive deal on June 30. After all, this is a time where the perfect must not be the enemy of the good.