On the Road to Yes With Iran

How to Read the Nuclear Deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks with the media during a news conference in Tehran, June 2013. (Majid Hagdost / Reuters)

There is nothing surprising about the interim deal with Iran except that it was signed. It is true that one side or the other might have gained a little more had it held out a bit longer, but the benefits would have been slight. For the West, the advantages of the arrangement are obvious: Iran will be a bit further away from gaining the capability to produce a bomb, it will find it harder to cheat in the face of increased inspections, and it will gain some limited and temporary sanctions relief. In addition, each side will have more reason to trust the other. 

The objections of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others are really less to the interim agreement than to the ultimate deal that is most likely to result. In terms of the nuclear program, any long-term agreement will look quite a bit like the current one. Although the West will not formally recognize Iran’s “right to enrich,” it will acknowledge its enrichment program, albeit with a number of restrictions. The details have yet to be negotiated, but limits would likely be placed on the number and type of centrifuges Iran could deploy, the level to which it could enrich uranium (to five if not 3.5 percent), and the size of the stockpile it could retain (probably about the same as now). Controls would be placed on Iran’s Arak reactor, perhaps even changing it from a heavy-water unit to a more proliferation-resistant light-water one. Inspections would be ramped up in order to give the world confidence that Iran is not enriching uranium at secret sites, and there would have to be interviews with members of the Iranian unit working on warhead design, including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

To be sure, success is not guaranteed, especially because of domestic politics in both the United States and Iran. Even under the best circumstances, there will be hard bargaining, especially over what sanctions should be lifted and when. Each side will seek arrangements that are relatively easy for it to reverse but lock the other side in as much as possible. If these negotiations cannot reach fruition, the interim arrangements might be extended, although they would probably have to be accompanied by some new sanctions relief, since the funds the West are now releasing will be used up in the next six months.

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