Why the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Is a Good Deal

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The agreement reached in Geneva will slow Iran’s nuclear progress. For that reason alone it deserves support.
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Critics were decrying the nascent interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program as a sellout even before negotiations in Geneva ended. An “unbelievable Christmas present” for Iran was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s choice sound bite. The critics argue that, instead of reaching an agreement that freezes Tehran’s nuclear progress, the United States and its negotiating partners, collectively known as the P5+1, should have held out for the complete dismantlement of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities.

This criticism is wrong. The relevant comparison is not between the Geneva deal and a perfect deal, but between this deal and no deal. Compared to no deal, the Geneva agreement advances the security of the United States and its allies and friends, including Israel.

To accurately assess the Geneva deal, four questions need to be answered. First, if Iran abides by the agreement, how much further will it be from the bomb than if there had been no agreement? Second, has the P5+1 made disproportionate concessions to get the deal? Third, if Iran violates the terms of the Geneva agreement, is its noncompliance likely to be detected? And, fourth, if noncompliance is detected, can anything meaningful be done about it?

The answers to all of these questions demonstrate that the deal is a good one.

Absent the Geneva deal, Iran could expand its enrichment program rapidly and dramatically at any time it chooses. In addition to its 9,000 or so first-generation centrifuges that are enriching uranium, Iran has around 7,700 machines installed but not operating. Because some of these idle machines are of a relatively efficient second-generation design, Tehran could more than double its enrichment capability simply by switching on these centrifuges. Iran also possesses a stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent that could be rapidly converted into weapons-usable material.

The Geneva deal obliges Iran to give up that stockpile, to refrain from operating the idle centrifuges, and to halt the production and installation of new centrifuges. As such, it will keep Tehran a month or two away from being able to manufacture enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. Without the deal, it could be days away from this goal by next year.

The difference between, say, six weeks and six days is critical in terms of whether the international community could respond to an Iranian attempt at breakout.

Separately, Iran is also working on the construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor, which would be particularly suitable for the production of weapons-usable plutonium. Once this reactor comes online, any possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program will disappear. Iran has now committed to stop both constructing this reactor and manufacturing fuel for it.

Of course, Iranian concessions must be weighed against what the P5+1 has given up in return. The Geneva deal involves about $7 billion in sanctions relief, which the White House argues is just a small fraction of the roughly $100 billion in Iranian foreign currency holdings that Tehran cannot currently access. Israel counters that the benefits to Tehran could be much larger if the agreement sparks the collapse of the sanctions regime.

In reality, the unraveling of sanctions would be much more likely if the United States rejected what was widely viewed as a good deal and became seen as the intransigent party.

Given Iran’s history of noncompliance with its nonproliferation obligations, it would be naive to ignore the possibility that Tehran might violate the Geneva deal. In this regard, the deal’s most significant feature is Iran’s agreement to allow IAEA inspections of facilities involved in the production, assembly, and storage of centrifuges. Such access, which the IAEA does not currently enjoy, will enable a critical aspect of the Geneva agreement to be verified. More frequent access to facilities that the IAEA already inspects—including enrichment facilities and the Arak heavy-water reactor—are also significant concessions by Iran.

Violating this accord would leave Iran in a distinctly worse position than complying with it—the benchmark for a good agreement. The United States would cease the process of thawing frozen Iranian funds if Tehran were caught violating the deal. China and Russia, which are signatories to the agreement, would probably consent to more robust Security Council sanctions—a step they have resisted. And states that have been willing to give Iran the benefit of the doubt so far would probably become more willing to exert political and economic pressure.

Ultimately, it is unclear whether the P5+1 and Iran will be able to reach a “final status” agreement given the daunting challenges ahead. However, the interim agreement reached in Geneva will prevent Iran from using complex and inevitably drawn-out negotiations as cover for advancing its program. And that will provide the political space to try to reach a long-term settlement.

Even if these negotiations fail, the Geneva agreement will have succeeded in slowing Iran’s program. For that reason, if no other, it deserves support.

End of document

About the Nuclear Policy Program

The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is an internationally acclaimed source of expertise and policy thinking on nuclear industry, nonproliferation, security, and disarmament. Its multinational staff stays at the forefront of nuclear policy issues in the United States, Russia, China, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.


Comments (7)

  • Alvar Antillon
    Acton´s comments are sound. Geneva´s agreements are the best possible in a critical situation. Iran would risk much from China and Russia if it does not comply.
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  • Nishant
    Netanyahu so far has been unable to understand the deal in context that it isn't an ideal deal. Israel wanted Tehran to be treated as the one who has lost the war & ready to sign whatever agreement you'll put in front of it for it's survival. Talks were a diplomatic effort, and the deal that came up is a sign of good diplomacy. Iran, if breaks the deal conditions have more loss than gain. Reopening of diplomatic channel with Iran after three decades is re-vitalizing sign for it's democracy, people & for the west on the other side. This will create better understanding of a virtually closed nation & I hope that Iran will keep it's efforts on to move towards the final deal rather than breaking it at midst.

    It seems Ayatollahs have more to do in Iran than Allah himself.
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  • Anthony Dsouza
    What, if any, impact would this deal have for the security of Asia, and particularly of South Asia, given the rampant proliferation record of Pakistan and, indeed, China( as far as Pakistan is concerned ). Would the world community be in a position to dismantle the Pakistan Nuclear establishment? How has security been enhanced in Asia because Pakistan, a Sunni majority nation, can still flex it's muscle in Afganistan and indeed the Persian Gulf. Given Saudi Arabia's proximity to the Pakistani establishment and the fact that in an emergency situation the Pakistan Govt will be obliged to give the Bomb to the Saudi's. Isn't the Geneva deal a boost for Saudi Wahabbi brand of Islam. Will this deal not cause a serious impairment in the Security environment in Asia. Would it not have been better if India was also involved in the Geneva deal because if the security concerns of India are not addressed vis a vis China and Pakistan, both hostile powers, then the dominance of the USA in Asia would be under threat. My point is, has this deal really been all that good for the people in the region or is it Good only for USA, EU and China.
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  • Tamer Mahboub
    Actually the Geneva agreement is a great step into dissuades Iran from continuing its ambiguity regarding its program. However, what guarantees that Iran does not deceive the international community such as in the past with the Additional Protocol (AP) in 2003. I think that Iran has embarked to this step in order to diminish the pressure on it. I feel that Iran is negotiating this time from a position of strength as a state nears from the nuclear threshold.
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  • CHForbesSr
    Dialogue in conference is far better for Iran than acting in rigid isolation, because it opens up alternative courses of action, clearly defined in the process of negotiation. This sanctioned period of delay can release the tension for all parties. Also, it is certainly true that any nation that acquires nuclear weapons in being, has grabbed a tiger by the tail forever after. These are weapons no actor has used since Nagasaki. At this moment Iran may very sensibly seize the opportunity to decline grabbing that tiger.
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  • sameen khan of sherpur,Barrister at law,LLM smu law dallas texas,LLM university of michigan.
    i have been to iran and became de facto leader of the group as i can speak some persian .i think usa and carnegie should realize that iran has created a shia islamic revolution which the sunni islamic states like pakistan,turkey and bangla desh should.so iran can not renege from its islamic revolution.
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  • Robert
    There won`t be "the good deal" because Iran want just the Bomb and the sane people among the Western talkers will stop the stright allowance to make it.
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Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/11/26/why-iranian-nuclear-agreement-is-good-deal/guoz

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