Good deal, bad deal? The pundits weigh in
The preliminary framework deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program was greeted with caution, congratulations, and outrage. Here are some reactions from well-known commentators:
How not to haggle
Michael Oren, Time magazine
The parameters agreement for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran is an ideal example of how not to buy a Middle Eastern carpet. In 2012, President Barack Obama declared that, “The deal we’ll accept is that they end their nuclear program” and “abide by the UN resolutions” demanding that Iran cease all uranium enrichment and dismantle its nuclear plants. The Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany could have offered the lowest possible price as their final bid — take it or leave it. Iran would have had little choice but to sell the carpet.
Yet, in reaching the parameters agreement, international negotiators were worn down by the protracted talks. They were persuaded by Iran’s displays of warmth and earnestness, and accepted its claim that the nuclear program was a matter of national pride similar to America’s moon landing. Most damagingly, when asked by the Iranians “how much do you want to spend?” the P5+1 replied by recognizing the Islamic Republic’s right to enrich and to maintain its nuclear facilities. This became the new baseline and the only remaining questions were: How much enrichment and how many facilities? The haggling had scarcely begun and already the merchant profited.
Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, is a member of Israel’s Knesset from the Kulanu Party.
Like many observers, I doubted in recent months that Iran and world powers would ever reach this stage; the setbacks and delays had simply been too many. Now, here we are, and the terms are far better than expected. There are a number of details still to be worked out, including one very big unresolved issue that could potentially sink everything. This is not over. But if this framework does indeed become a full nuclear deal in July, it would be a huge success and a great deal.
The framework deal requires Iran to surrender some crucial components of its nuclear program, in part or even in whole. Here are the highlights:
• Iran will give up about 14,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges.
• Iran will give up all but its most rudimentary, outdated centrifuges: its first-generation IR-1s, knockoffs of 1970s European models, are all it gets to keep. It will not be allowed to build or develop newer models
• Iran will give up 97 percent of its enriched uranium; it will hold on to only 300 kilograms of its 10,000-kilogram stockpile in its current form.
• Iran will destroy or export the core of its plutonium plant at Arak, and replace it with a new core that cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium. It will ship out all spent nuclear fuel.
Iran would simply not have much of its nuclear program left after all this.
Fisher is content director for Vox.
Jonathan Tobin, Commentary
Indeed, the course of the negotiations into which the president has invested so much time and political capital shows that Tehran is prepared to ferociously defend not only its nuclear options but also its ideology. Even as the president was instructing his negotiators to give way on almost every key point during the negotiations — including the location of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel, the retention of thousands of centrifuges, the reimposition of sanctions, and its unwillingness to tell the truth about the extent of its military research program — the Islamist regime was expanding its reach throughout the Middle East as its auxiliaries and allies strengthened their hold on Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen. Nor did it trouble to lower its voice about threatening Israel with destruction (a point which one of its top military leaders said was “not negotiable” just days before the happy announcement in Lausanne). Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plea that a final deal signed in June includes Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist is a forlorn hope that has zero chance of fulfillment. That’s not only because Iran would never do so but because the United States has not asked for such a thing any more than it has demanded that an end to Iranian support for terrorism or its building of ballistic missiles be included in the deal.
Having agreed to measures that will jumpstart an Iranian economy that might have been brought to its knees had President Obama stuck to the strategy that brought the regime to the negotiating table, the notion that it will moderate its ambitions is simply wishful thinking. Nor is there any reason to think that a government that has always treated its nuclear program as a key symbol and tool of their ability to defy the West will step back from their ambition to create a weapon.
Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine.
Getting it done
Amy Davidson, The New Yorker
Obama said on Thursday [April 2] that the current estimates indicated that Iran could have the materials for a bomb, if it wanted to, in two to three months. Under the deal, that “break out” time — the minimum post-cheating bomb-acquisition interval — would be at least a year, for the next decade. He continued, “So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? Is it worse than doing what we’ve done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections? I think the answer will be clear.” Those critics talk as though it’s just as clear that he’s wrong. John Boehner, on Thursday, said that the deal appeared to be “an alarming departure” from what Obama had said his goals were. Obama didn’t agree.
“Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so,” the President said. “That’s not how the world works. And that’s not what history shows us.” Is that cynicism or optimism? The world is not a place where you can simply look tough and your enemies will crumble; but it is a place where, with some work and some luck, you can try to get something done.
Davidson is a staff writer for The New Yorker.
The biggest hole
Bret Stephens, “Journal Editorial Report”
Well, the biggest hole has to do with the inspections process. The president trumpeted the fact that the deal would include something called the additional protocol to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is a tougher set of inspections rules. But the deal does not include what you might call anytime, anywhere inspections, which are the thing that you have if any kind of deal is going to be honored. Look, the terms of this deal could have been even better at least on paper. But if you can’t inspect it, our experience from past episodes of inspection like North Korea, is that these types of regimes will cheat. And this deal provides Iran with ample opportunities to cheat and to rely on the Russians especially to cover for them at the UN.
Stephens writes “Global View,” the Wall Street Journal’s foreign-affairs column.
David Horovitz, Times of Israel
Even as the world powers were convened in Lausanne, Iran was strengthening its proxy hold on Yemen, still further bolstering its sway in the region.
The talks went on, quite undisturbed, despite the declaration on Tuesday [March 31] by Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij militia of the Revolutionary Guards, that, for Iran, “erasing Israel from the map” is “nonnegotiable.”
The U.S.-led negotiators convened, evidently unfazed, just days after Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, having wound up a mass gathering in Tehran to chant “Death to America,” responded: “Of course yes, Death to America.”
“The proud people of Iran,” crowed Foreign Minister Zarif, would never have accepted the closure of any of their nuclear facilities. But the president of the United States was not too proud to strike a deal that empowers and rewards a murderous leadership that is widening its influence across the Middle East, extending its missile range, sponsoring terrorism worldwide, vowing to eliminate Israel, and demanding “Death to America.”
What was needed was not no deal at all. What was needed — and, crucially, what was possible given the economic pressure that had been mustered against Iran — was a better deal.
A better deal is still needed. Unfortunately, tragically, the president of the United States has not been sufficiently resolute to insist upon it.
David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel.
There’s no ‘better deal’
J.J. Goldberg, The Forward
The prime minister argues that the alternative to the current deal is a better deal. Rather than engaging Iran in a negotiating process, which has necessarily involved concessions on both sides at every stage, he favors stiffer sanctions in order to pressure Iran into far more extreme concessions.
Those with long historical memories — going back further than, say, six years — will recall that during the Bush administration’s no-engagement policy before 2009, sanctions were imposed by America, Europe and the United Nations, but much of the world ignored them, including Russia and China, and Iran was proceeding full-steam toward nuclear capability. Things didn’t start to change until 2009, when the Obama administration got directly engaged in negotiations. That convinced the Russians and the Chinese to take the process seriously, and the sanctions finally began to hurt. That, plus the military threats from Netanyahu post-2009, led to Iran agreeing in 2013 in Geneva for the first time to suspend enrichment and begin serious talks.
If these talks don’t succeed, the alternative isn’t a better deal — it’s Russia and China abandoning the sanctions and Iran going back to Plan A, resuming its race to bomb capability. That’s not some left-wing fantasy. It’s the assessment of Israel’s own intelligence agency, the Mossad. Back in January, when Netanyahu and his Washington allies were pushing for the so-called Kirk-Menendez bill to ratchet up sanctions, Mossad director Tamir Pardo warned a group of visiting American senators that passage of the bill would torpedo the negotiations and return the situation to the pre-2009 standoff.
J.J. Goldberg is editor-at-large for The Jewish Daily Forward.