Get over it: There’s no better deal coming on Iran’s nuclear program

February 25, 2015
Officials sit around the negotiations table during their meeting in Vienna

Delegations of Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in Vienna, November 24, 2014. REUTERS/Joe Klamar/Pool

The best chance to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful is imperiled because of mistaken notions about what real alternatives the West has.

There certainly is an agreement to be had that is consistent with the preliminary accord, known as the Joint Plan of Action, reached more than a year ago. This plan placed major restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and subjected it to an unprecedented degree of monitoring. But the whole negotiating edifice would crash if the U.S. Congress either rejects a final agreement, with a resolution of disapproval, or decides to impose new sanctions on Iran, which would violate, and thus kill, the preliminary accords.

If this happens, Iran’s nuclear program would be unrestricted and unmonitored — apart from what applies to any state that is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to standard agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Indefinitely extending the preliminary accord could serve nonproliferation objectives. But this is not politically feasible in either Tehran or Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian FM Zarif before their meeting in Vienna

Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) before a meeting in Vienna, November 23, 2014. REUTERS/Ronald Zak/Pool

The Iranians could not be expected, for example, to prolong endlessly an arrangement that offers only minimal sanctions relief. Congressional hawks, meanwhile, have made it clear they would impose additional sanctions if a final agreement is not reached by early summer.

Members of Congress who seem primed to oppose whatever agreement emerges from the negotiations usually base their opposition on the idea that rejecting the agreement would clear the way for a “better deal.” That belief is a fantasy.

If the agreement reached in these negotiations is killed, there probably won’t be another chance for many years. There is no mysterious process that could cause a better deal to materialize.

As for imposing additional sanctions, there is nothing in the Iranians’ record to suggest that at some level of economic pain they would cry uncle and capitulate to hard-line demands. If this were possible, it would have happened by now after many years of debilitating sanctions. Just as would be the case with Washington, there is no political or psychological room in Iran for capitulation under that kind of pressure.

The principal source of the Iranians’ doubt and hesitation in these nuclear talks has not been what would happen if there is no agreement. It is instead what they expect to happen if there is an agreement.

Congressional opposition has given Tehran plenty of reasons to doubt Washington’s willingness to strike a workable deal, and even to doubt the Obama administration’s ability to fulfill the U.S. end of the bargain. Any new deal-killing action by Congress would confirm the Iranians’ doubts and lead more of them to conclude that there is no use trying to do business with Washington.

Additional political responses in Tehran would make prospects for striking a new and different deal even more remote. President Hassan Rouhani, who has staked his political career on the success of these negotiations, would become a discredited lame duck. The supreme leader, who has supported Rouhani’s efforts so far but has left himself an out by repeatedly expressing doubt about U.S. intentions, would say, “I told you so.” The political power of Iranian hard-liners, who are less, not more, willing to make fresh concessions on the nuclear issue, would increase.

As for one other form of pressure that those holding out for a better-deal fantasy often suggest — the threat of military attack on Iran: It would be hard to imagine anything — other than an actual attack — better designed to rekindle whatever lingering interest there is in Iran to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Assessing the product of any negotiation, on this or any other topic, requires comparing it to its alternative. The alternative here is no agreement. A good deal would be one that is better than no deal; a bad deal would be one that is worse.

Members of Congress who oppose an agreement would, in effect, be casting a vote in favor of allowing Iran to run as many centrifuges as it wants; to accumulate unlimited stockpiles of enriched uranium, and to resume enrichment at the higher levels it has previously abandoned. It also would be a vote to remove additional international inspectors placed in Iran under the preliminary accords.

Anyone who casts a vote with these effects will have a lot of explaining to do to constituents.


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Pretty good article. Spot on!

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

What a load of leftist O bummer supporting Clap Trap.

Nobody wants war.

However iran with the ability to produce plutonium or enrich uranium, guarantees nuclear war. Probably global. Along with the destruction of Israel. One of O bummers main objectives;.

Saudi and Israel are already agreed on cooperation to eliminate the iranian nuclear program, by what ever means necessary.

Iran gives up enrichment and plutonium, or there will be war (not necessarily nuclear) simple.

Posted by nzl-kz7 | Report as abusive

Yes,let’s surrender to Iran. That’s the liberal’s solution to everything. I do agree, however, as long as Obama is President, our policy of surrender won’t waiver.

Posted by orlandocajun | Report as abusive

Where’s Valerie Jarrett from again?

Posted by bkeyser | Report as abusive

The bamster is going to ensure the persians get the bomb. The treaty will not be ratified by the Senate and will die there. And then the Israelis will nuke the p*ss out of Tehran. End of problem.

Posted by phadras31 | Report as abusive

Then there is NO deal. Nuke these Iranians back to the stone age.

Posted by Mudsharky | Report as abusive

Iran could be turned into a nice glass parking lot. If they truly become a 7th century society… their sacred religion calls for…..they won’t be producing scientists of any variety, let alone nuclear physicists..

Posted by Ellen85219 | Report as abusive

So ANY agreement, no matter how awful, is better than no agreement.
What is scary is that this onetime government drone is representative of the State Department sellouts currently giving away the store to Iran – so Obama can claim a deal and Kerry can get a prize.

Posted by OctoberMountain | Report as abusive

Then you bomb Iran back to the stone age. Every other year if necessary. You cannot trust radical Islamic extremists who call for erasing Israel from the map. You really think they will keep their promises. You really think they will play nice? Even if they didnt directly use a nuclear weapon against Israel (knowing full well that no nation in the West would ever nuke ordinary Iranians in retalliation), they would uae such weapons as a deterrant to enable them to continue funding jihadist groups who will attack Israel and the West for them.

Posted by mburn16 | Report as abusive

Oh please! The chance of Iran honoring any agreement is as likely as Barack Obama getting a show on Fox News. No agreement is better than an agreement that will never be honored.

Posted by paulejb | Report as abusive

Spot on!

The fantasists who imagine that there are other options need to take a dose of reality. Neither this, nor any other conceivable US administration has any intention of getting involved in a shooting war with Iran at this time. Neither is there any intention in the remaining two years of this administration (and probably, ever)of allowing us to be bounced into assisting in an Israeli air-attack against such Iranian nuclear facilities as might still be vulnerable to an air assault. The Israelis would be on their own in a course of action which wouldn’t be guaranteed to do more than set back any Iranian bomb-programme, while making the Iranians twice as determined to put every available resource into getting their deterrent as soon as possible. I cannot see the administration being too happy with a course of action that would sabotage other vital US regional interests, either.
Interestingly, fewer than one in ten Israeli voters see Iran as their priority issue in the forthcoming elections. This hardly syncs with their agreeing with Netanyahu that Iran is an existential threat. It would seem to suggest that most Israelis either think Iran is a bagatelle, or they believe that the negotiations are the way to go.

Posted by petearon | Report as abusive

It’s unfortunate that the writer imagines that today’s Republicans would take the time to explain anything to their constituents. The fact of the matter is that Republicans merely need to oppose efforts of this administration to get ANYTHING done, to make their minions happy. There is little reason to believe that there is group inside that circle that spends any time critiqing changes to policy, foreign or domestic.
The recent Republican history of doubling down on inanity does not provide hope in practical decision making. We are at the mercy of hicks in a brutal and thuggish season.

Posted by Skyzm | Report as abusive

Since nuclear capable Iran will be that for generations, the question is what is likely hood of in that time of a set of clergy, who do not look at reality but only how their doctrines say what reality is, becoming the heads of Iranian clergy. Therefore becoming the real leaders in Iran and finger on the nuclear capability.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

Yeeeha, startup the centrifuges. The congress, AIPAC, will guaranteed to torpedo any deal good or bad

Posted by cynical175 | Report as abusive

Israeli planes cannot reach Iran with out American Tankers to refuel….Israel is embroiled in a lawsuit worth Billions payable to Iran for Breach of oil Contract this suit is in the Docket….The only Nuclear power in the Middle East constantly provocative and in violation of U.N. charter with her neighbors and those behaviors are a red flag for the removal of all her Nuclear capabilities.Detente must be the rule to live by and no world power in possession can conduct themselves as the Israelis have…. No Excuse’s….. No Exceptions

Posted by DJSanDiego | Report as abusive

Republican traitors seek own back room deal with Iran. Maybe they’ll pull a reagan and sell Iran some long-range missiles.

GOP = incompetent.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The only alternative plan that would work would be to declare the entire Middle East a Nuclear Weapon free zone. Of course, this would mean Israel would have to give up their nuclear weapons. But if that would forgo a nuclear weapons race in the area, why not?

Posted by bellinghamster | Report as abusive