Nobody’s Perfect: Iran Deal Better Than Any Realistic Alternative

President Obama’s statement on the agreement.

— by Steve Sheffey

The White House released a fact sheet detailing the specifics of the agreement with Iran, and these are the key points:

  1. In the past, the concern has been expressed that Iran will use negotiations to buy time to advance their program. Taken together, these first step measures will help prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue advancing its nuclear program as we seek to negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution that addresses all of the international community’s concerns.
  2. Without this phased agreement, Iran could start spinning thousands of additional centrifuges. It could install and spin next-generation centrifuges that will reduce its breakout times. It could fuel and commission the Arak heavy water reactor. It could grow its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to beyond the threshold for a bomb’s worth of uranium. Iran can do none of these things under the conditions of the first step understanding.
  3. Furthermore, without this phased approach, the international sanctions coalition would begin to fray because Iran would make the case to the world that it was serious about a diplomatic solution and we were not. We would be unable to bring partners along to do the crucial work of enforcing our sanctions. With this first step, we stop and begin to roll back Iran’s program and give Iran a sharp choice: fulfill its commitments and negotiate in good faith to a final deal, or the entire international community will respond with even more isolation and pressure.

The question is not whether Iran poses an existential threat to Israel (it does), whether Iran is a terrorist state (it is), whether a nuclear-armed Iran would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East (it would), whether a nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize the region and damage U.S. national security interests (it would), or whether Iran can be trusted (it cannot — that is why verification is key).

Continued after the jump.
Nor is the question whether Iran’s rhetoric is unacceptable (it is — just last week, Ayatollah Khamenei said that Israeli officials “cannot even be called humans” and called Prime Minister Netanyahu “the rabid dog of the region,” which Samantha Power condemned as “abhorrent”), or thus whether we can allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons (we cannot).

Nor it is whether a comprehensive agreement permanently ending Iran’s nuclear weapons capability in exchange for lifting of sanctions the best outcome (it is, and that is the goal the interim agreement is designed to set us up for).

The question is whether Iran could cross the nuclear threshold before a comprehensive agreement could be completed and if so, whether an interim agreement that froze Iran’s progress — thus eliminating the risk that Iran could use negotiations to stall for time — in exchange for limited, reversible sanctions relief is therefore the best realistic outcome (it appears to be).

The U.S. and Israel, each rationally evaluating the interim agreement, could come to different conclusions.

Iran is an existential threat to Israel. A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten U.S. national security interests, but Iran is not an existential threat the U.S. Also, the U.S., with more military power, has a wider window of opportunity.

Therefore, we must consider not only whether any interim agreement addresses U.S. concerns, but whether it addresses Israeli concerns — not because the U.S. is doing Israel’s bidding (we have our own compelling reasons for wanting to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, wholly apart from Iran’s threat to Israel) — but because no Israeli government could leave itself vulnerable to what it perceives as an existential threat.

An interim agreement that leaves Israel with no choice but to take military action would itself be a flawed agreement. Roey Gilad, Israel’s Consul General to the Midwest, described Israel’s definition of a good deal very clearly last week.

There is no question that the best solution is a diplomatic solution. This is not a perfect deal. But it appears better than any realistic alternatives, and that’s the measure against which the deal must be judged.

This is what I think today, upon just learning about the deal and not having digested the details. It might not be what I think tomorrow.

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  1. siweni says

    There is a better realistic alternative.
    Since harsh sanctions brought Iran to the table, additional and harsher sanctions could very well bring Iran to its knees.

  2. burrowsx says

    Barack Obama has finally decided a few things, and has decided that they are not subject to negotiation.
    1. The United States will not be the military water boy for our allies. If allies truly want American help, they are going to have to take the same financial and human risks that Americans do. This has applied equally to Egypt, Morrocco, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
    2. The United States can no longer afford to go to war unless our own national interests are threatened.
    3. Countries whose Presidents and Prime Ministers actively campaign against the leadership of the United States, whether from their own capitals, or when visiting the cities of the United States, should not expect our enthusiastic diplomatic interests to coincide with their own — even when they have influence over serious United States constituencies.
    4. Barack Obama has determined not to make the same mistakes he made in 2010, for the coming 2014 election: he intends to win. He will fundraise, and he will campaign. He knows that he will have a failed presidency if he does not regain control of the House, and maintain a majority in the Senate.

    Sheffey has called the Iran negotiation well, but he needs to place the Iran nuclear relationship in a strategic framework, which could simultaneously solve the negotiations in Syria, and defuse negotiations in Israel and the Territories. Limbaugh to the contrary, Obama has been no fool here: he knows that this parlay could fail. But he also knows that committing ground troops in the area would only exacerbate the conflicts on the ground.

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