Following Sunday's announcement of a confirmed détente and signed nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations, foreign policy analysts, experts and progressives widely championed the deal by calling it a "historic" achievement that lessens the chance of a regional war and returns sanity to the serious issues of nuclear proliferation and international diplomacy in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, as Israeli leaders fume and fears that Congress could still dash progress by legislating new sanctions, polling shows that support among the public is high for a deal that avoids war, eases tensions, and offers a diplomatic pathway to a final deal.
"There is only one reason to oppose this deal: whether with weapons of war or sanctions that will lead to a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in Iran, an all-out attack on Iran with the hope of regime change is what this is really about." —MItchell Plitnick, LobeLog.com
Though concerns remain for all involved, and acknowledging that the deal signed in Geneva represents only a six-month framework designed to build trust for a more permanent solution, the breakthrough is seen as a rare positive development in a region plagued by U.S. military interventions and a diplomatic deep freeze with Iran that has lasted for more than thirty years.
The agreement itself—officially drawn out in a four-page document called a “Joint Plan of Action”—was signed Sunday by Iran and the P5+1 which includes the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany.
As far as who the deal "favors," Mitchell Plitnick, a foreign policy analyst writing at the LobeLog.com, says "the deal self-evidently favors the West," with Iran giving much more than they are receiving. He explains:
Iran is agreeing to it because they hope it will lead to what they want, which is a fully functional nuclear energy program that is sufficiently proven to be peaceful to remove the sanctions. When hardline Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted “Unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything,” he demonstrated thorough ignorance of the nuclear weaponization process as well as the contents of the agreement. There is only one reason to oppose this deal: whether with weapons of war or sanctions that will lead to a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in Iran, an all-out attack on Iran with the hope of regime change is what this is really about. The conclusion is inescapable — if you oppose this deal, you are looking for a lot more than the neutralization of Iran’s ability to construct a nuclear weapon.
Reviewing the document, former British diplomat Peter Jenkins, an expert on international nuclear agreements, explains how Iran has agreed to:
- allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) daily access to the two enrichment plants that have been at the centre of Western and Israeli concern about Iran’s nuclear program. Daily access is more than enough to ensure that detection of any Iranian move towards using these facilities to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium would be so timely that the Un Security Council could interrupt and put an end to the process.
- give the IAEA access to the workshops that produce centrifuge components and where centrifuges are assembled. This is not a legal obligation that flows from Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. It is a voluntary, confidence-building measure. It will enable the IAEA to provide the E3+3 with assurances that Iran is implementing its commitment in the Plan of Action to limit the production of centrifuges to what is needed for the replacement of any of its currently operating machines that break down.
- provide the IAEA with detailed information about the purpose of each building on its nuclear sites, as well as about its uranium mines and mills and unprocessed nuclear material stocks. This will help the IAEA towards providing the international community with a credible assurance that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material on Iranian soil – an assurance that ought, in principle, to open the way to treating the Iranian nuclear program in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT, as envisaged in the last paragraph of the Joint Plan of Action.
- furnish up-to-date design information for the reactor under construction at Arak. This well help the IAEA to design, in collaboration with Iran, a plan for applying safeguards to the plant, with the aim of maximising the possibility of timely detection of any diversion of nuclear fuel from the reactor to non-peaceful purposes.
Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, called the agreement "the real deal," writing:
"The negotiations are a dramatic example of the efficacy of diplomacy in resolving the most difficult of security problems." –Joe Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund
It is possible that the nuclear deal and these related efforts could lead to a broader rapprochement with Iran that could, in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words, help the U.S. and Iran "manage our differences." Not "resolve" them; not "overcome" them, but more pragmatically manage them the way U.S. officials managed differences with China under Nixon and Russia under Reagan. The United States could get Iranian cooperation on a score of key U.S. strategic issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Syria and the Israel-Palestine peace process.
More broadly, rolling back the Iranian program removes the largest perceived nuclear proliferation threat. Although there is no logical connection between the 5000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. active nuclear arsenal and the possibility that Iran might someday get one or ten, psychologically and politically there is.
If Iran were to become a nuclear-armed state it would be much more difficult to negotiate reductions in global stockpiles. Eliminating this threat creates the security conditions necessary for nuclear-armed states to consider reducing obsolete arsenals and for threshold states to refrain from beginning new programs.
Coupled with the success of the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the negotiations are a dramatic example of the efficacy of diplomacy in resolving the most difficult of security problems.
And Plitnick welcomed the agreement as a "huge step back away from war" and said Israeli claims that the agreement would imperil its security were absurd. The "only way this hurts Israel is by limiting Netanyahu’s fear-mongering," Plitnick wrote. And continued:
"There is just about no risk for Israel here, and everything to gain, from the point of view of the average Israeli. From the point of view of right wing demagogues like Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, it risks removing their last great boogeyman." –Plitnick
The problem with Israel’s stance — and that of its right-wing advocates abroad — has been, all along, that what they really want is ever-increasing sanctions and tensions with Iran. The only deal that can possibly be even marginally acceptable to Israel is one which involves Iran’s total surrender. Since that was never going to be possible, the Netanyahu government is going to oppose even a great deal like this one with everything it has. A lot of Israeli rhetoric for years has been misinformation, sometimes even outright lies. Such was the case today when the Prime Minister’s office characterized the deal as giving “…Iran exactly what it wanted — a serious lessening of sanctions as well as preserving the most significant parts of its nuclear program.” The deal demonstrably does neither. Israel does have legitimate security concerns here, of course, but they have never been what Netanyahu has said they were. This deal is great for Israel because it grants unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear facilities to the IAEA, eliminates their 20% enriched uranium stockpile, and, at least for the next six months, eliminates Iran’s ability to beef up their nuclear program. It does that while bringing only temporary and unsustainable sanction relief—it will help a bit for a while, but by itself, this relief is nowhere near enough to repair the Iranian economy. There is just about no risk for Israel here, and everything to gain, from the point of view of the average Israeli. From the point of view of right wing demagogues like Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, it risks removing their last great boogeyman. Because if there is peace with Iran, they go back to trying to sell the Palestinians and Hezbollah as existential risks. Good luck with that.
Writing at The Nation, contributing editor and foreign policy analyst Bob Dreyfuss agreed, saying the agreement is "first stop towards peace" while adding that the politics of the deal are equal in importance as the substance of it:
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry signed the deal in explicit, full-frontal defiance of American hawks, neoconservatives and hardliners, the Israel lobby, and anti-Iran partisans in Congress. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his team, backed by President Hassan Rouhani—elected in June with a mandate to do exactly this—have similarly defied their own country’s hardliners and skeptics, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and by what Zarif calls Iran’s own Tea Party. And the United States struck the deal despite outright hostility, bordering on hysteria, from its two chief allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia. [...]
Iran has agreed to far more intrusive IAEA inspections, including daily inspections at Natanz and at the underground facility at Fordow.
Both President Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, have endorsed the accord, in part because for the first time the United States and the P5+1 have tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium under the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, by agreeing to permit Iran’s continuing enrichment to 5 percent. Rouhani said that the deal seals Iran’s “nuclear rights,” and, according to Al Arabiya, Khamenei said: “The nuclear negotiating team should be thanked and appreciated for this achievement.
William Beeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, says that because neither side gave much or received much in substance, the deal should be largely seen as symbolic, though he qualified that by noting even those "symbolic" achievements are themselves historic in nature:
The principal benefit of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations on November 23 is that Iran and the United States were able to down to talk and reach an agreement on something. Given 33 years of estrangement and non-communication, this is an extraordinarily important development -- nearly equivalent to the U.S. breakthrough to China -- perhaps the signal achievement of the Nixon administration.
The profound symbolism of the moment more than outweighs the lighter substantive elements of the temporary agreement. The United States and its partners appeared tough and got very little. Iran appeared tough and gave up very little. Both sides saved face. This is the essence of a successful agreement. No one "won" and no one "lost."
Iranians have been both sincere and clever in the negotiations. They played up to the insubstantial straw-man accusations promulgated by the U.S. and its partners, making them seem weightier than they were in reality. By yielding to the P5+1 demands, in essence Iran has allowed itself to be persuaded to stop temporarily doing what it never intended to do -- make a nuclear weapon. The bottom line is that Iran did not give up very much in the negotiations, (but it didn't gain very much either).
And regarding the continued suggestion that Iran had a nuclear weapons program to begin with, Beeman adds:
There is a strange irony in President Obama's announcement of the temporary agreement. He mentioned the term "nuclear weapon" multiple times in his announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon. One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line critics.
The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran has or ever had a nuclear weapons program. Every relevant intelligence agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. Two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011 underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for any military purpose.
Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is "not a danger" to Israel. Typical is ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy who said on March 16 this year that Iran "will not make it to the bomb," and that Israel's existence "is not in danger and shouldn't be questioned."