The following article will appear in the May 7, 2015 issue of The New York Review.
During the months of negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran, opponents of a deal have loudly anticipated failure, either because a deal wouldn’t be reached, wouldn’t be good enough, or wouldn’t be upheld by Tehran. Charging that the impending deadline made the US too eager to reach a deal, House Speaker John Boehner unaccountably made the pressure worse by announcing that if a deal wasn’t struck soon, Congress would immediately impose new sanctions on Iran—an act that would preemptively destroy any hope of a final agreement.
Republican presidential candidates one-upped each other in expressing disapproval of the negotiations. Scott Walker promised to revoke the deal on “day one” in the White House. Ted Cruz said that anyone who doesn’t reject the deal “isn’t fit to be president.” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker promoted an early vote on a bill that ostensibly would give Congress a voice on the acceptability of the deal but was actually laced with poison pills that could destroy the negotiating process. So while most Americans hoped for an agreement, Congress geared up to restart a ferocious debate on a question of paramount national security about an agreement that did not yet exist.
The deal finally reached on April 2 was a surprise. While the announcement referred only to “parameters,” summarized in individual press releases by each participant country, taken together, the elements that were made public are stronger than outsiders (and, reportedly, some insiders) expected. Iran agrees to cut the number of its centrifuges from about 19,000 to 6,100 (5,060 in operation). Rather than export its 10,000-kilogram stockpile of enriched uranium, Iran agrees to shrink it to 300 kilograms. As was expected, no facilities are to be destroyed, but the underground enrichment facility at Fordow, of particular concern because it is impervious to most bombing, will be converted to a research center.* No enrichment will take place there for at least fifteen years. The plutonium-producing reactor at Arak will be permanently reconfigured, and Iran has committed “indefinitely” not to reprocess spent fuel, the process that separates out the pure plutonium needed for a bomb. Various commitments last from ten to as long as twenty-five years...