A Good Step In The Right Direction, But A Long Way To Our Destination

I see the interim deal as a good, modest step forward, but one that also increases the plausibility that we will be able to reach a final, comprehensive deal to eliminate the threat of a nuclear Iran.

The deal met or exceeded all expectations on its technical merits. Iran will not be able to make any progress toward achieving a nuclear breakout capability during the six months it is in effect — assuming the Iranians abide by its terms. Moreover, the fact that they will convert or dilute their current stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.75 percent purity is a major, unexpected concession that ensures that they will be farther from such a capability at then end of the six months than they are today or than they would be if they were able to keep enriching during that six months, as would be the case if there were no deal.

But the truth is that I think the calculations regarding how close or far Iran is from being able to produce the fissile material for a weapon are just nonsense. There are too many variables and too many assumptions to have any confidence in the numbers being put out by either the Administration or its critics (including the Israelis). 

For that reason, I think the deal is better understood as a useful, even important confidence-building measure. Neither side trusts the other, but both sides needed to see some tangible manifestation ahead of time, that the other would be willing to do what would be required in a final deal. We needed a demonstration of Iran’s willingness to halt its nuclear progress, give up much of what it has already accomplished, and submit to more comprehensive inspections. And Iran needed to see that the international community (read: the U.S.) would be willing to provide sanctions relief and allow Iran to retain some limited enrichment capacity, albeit with guarantees and safeguards that it would be solely for civilian purposes.

That is what the interim deal did. And for my money, that’s all it really did. But that is still important. And it also suggests that it is plausible to believe that the international community and Iran will also be able to work out the terms for a comprehensive follow-on deal that would hopefully end the threat of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons altogether.

However, we should recognize that that step may prove far, far more difficult than the agreement just negotiated. The complexities are far greater. The concessions that both sides will be required to make will be far more painful. In particular, it remains to be seen whether Iran is prepared to accept a final deal that would give them what they want in practice, but not in theory. If Tehran insists on standing on principle — especially on its “right” to enrich and the lifting of “all” sanctions — such a resolution may well prove impossible. So it’s a good step in the right direction, but we are still very far from our destination.