Long View on Iran

The Real Work Will Start After the Nuclear Deal Is Signed

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the UN headquarters in New York, September 2013. Eric Thayer / Courtesy Reuters

The extension of the deadlines for the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 adds drama to a related standoff in Washington—that between President Barack Obama and Congress—over whether and how a deal should be struck. The Obama administration, eager to reach an accord with Tehran, seems ready to agree to terms that, a few years ago, it called unacceptable. But Congress, suspecting that the president would accept even a bad deal in order to claim a foreign policy victory, is threatening to ratchet up sanctions on Iran before a settlement is reached. During the next negotiating period, this dispute will only escalate. 

Yet the relentless focus on the agreement itself obscures an important truth: much of the struggle to ensure the deal’s success will come after the ink is dry. A host of obstacles could undermine the future agreement’s sustainability, and even the most favorable deal reached by the end of the new extension period would represent the start of the real work rather than a victory. 


The weeks leading up to Monday’s deadline saw surging expectations that a deal would be struck, fueled by what appeared to be an orchestrated series of leaks from the U.S. administration highlighting various potential compromise arrangements. Although Secretary of State John Kerry and his European counterparts ultimately failed to reach an agreement with the Iranian negotiators, their seven-month extension of the Joint Plan of Action gives the parties more time to find a compromise. It also prolongs the bitter dispute between the White House and Congress over whether any terms would be good enough. 

Obama has said that he will not agree to a bad deal, but he is under great pressure to reach some sort of accommodation. Failing to come to terms with Iran would add to his growing list of diplomatic setbacks. That is why many in Congress believe that Obama would approve the bargain even if it falls far short

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