Security Insiders: World Powers Struck a ‘Good Deal’ With Iran

But experts are split on whether the interim deal will lead to a lasting agreement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with Secretary of State John Kerry after a statement on a landmark deal with Iran halting parts of its nuclear program Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Dec. 2, 2013, 4:40 p.m.

A strong ma­jor­ity of Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders thought the re­cent agree­ment between world powers and Ir­an — to lim­it its nuc­le­ar pro­gram in ex­change for some sanc­tions re­lief — is a “good deal,” des­pite scath­ing cri­ti­cism by Ir­an hawks and Is­rael.

The agree­ment, inked in Geneva, “is bet­ter than ex­pec­ted and rolls back key as­pects of the Ir­a­ni­an pro­gress to­ward bomb-grade highly en­riched urani­um,” one In­sider said. It also in­creases likely in­ter­na­tion­al sup­port for tough­er sanc­tions, an­oth­er In­sider ad­ded, if Ir­an does not com­ply with this ac­cord or re­fuses to con­clude an ac­cept­able, sub­sequent com­pre­hens­ive agree­ment.

“Dip­lomacy trumps war here,” an­oth­er In­sider re­marked.

However, sev­er­al In­siders were quick to point out their sup­port is on the con­di­tion the deal serves as a tem­por­ary place­hold­er while a bet­ter one is craf­ted, or, as one In­sider said, “while we work to hit the de­lete but­ton rather than the pause but­ton.”

“If it be­comes the fi­nal deal,” the In­sider con­tin­ued, “it’s dis­astrous.”

However, ob­jec­tions from Is­rael — and mem­bers of Con­gress seek­ing to toughen the fin­an­cial pres­sure even as talks con­tin­ue — re­main the ele­phants in the ne­go­ti­at­ing room. The agree­ment is “a good deal in­so­far as it gives dip­lomacy a chance, when it’s most vo­cal de­tract­ors seem in­tent on some form of mil­it­ary re­sponse to the Ir­a­ni­an ques­tion,” one In­sider said. “Tough­er, con­gres­sion­ally man­dated sanc­tions now would prob­ably break the solid­ar­ity of the cur­rent sanc­tions re­gime rather than strengthen it.” An­oth­er ad­ded: “Let us hope that Bibi [Net­an­yahu, Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter] does not suc­ceed in killing a fi­nal deal.”

A vo­cal 24.5 per­cent of the pool of na­tion­al se­cur­ity and for­eign policy ex­perts dis­liked the deal. “Obama prob­ably got the abil­ity to claim that Ir­an didn’t go nuc­le­ar on his watch, but he’s in­creased the like­li­hood that they will on his suc­cessor’s watch,” one In­sider said. The deal, an­oth­er In­sider ad­ded, “re­wards Ir­an for bad be­ha­vi­or es­pe­cially by provid­ing sanc­tions re­lief and al­low­ing en­rich­ment to con­tin­ue be­fore Ir­an has proven it can be trus­ted.”

The deal didn’t go far enough, the In­sider said. “The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for­got to in­clude U.S. cit­izens held host­age in Ir­an and calls for re­spect for hu­man rights in the deal.”

In­siders were more di­vided over wheth­er they be­lieved this in­ter­im deal with Ir­an would be the first step on a dip­lo­mat­ic path to­ward ul­ti­mately elim­in­at­ing the coun­try’s nuc­le­ar-weapons pro­gram. The op­tim­ists won a nar­row ma­jor­ity, with 58 per­cent of In­siders be­liev­ing this deal is the first step to­ward a last­ing agree­ment.

If Ir­an com­plies and ne­go­ti­ates in good faith, the six-month dead­line “of­fers hope,” one In­sider said. “If the U.S. holds to the dead­line and re­serves the op­tion of re­in­sti­tut­ing or strength­en­ing sanc­tions, Ir­an is more likely to com­ply. The trick will be for the pres­id­ent to bal­ance Ir­an on one hand and Con­gress (and its de­sire to ramp up sanc­tions) on the oth­er.” Both sides, an­oth­er In­sider said, “have strong in­cent­ives to settle short of war, with an Ir­a­ni­an weapons pro­gram de­ferred, for now.”

Yet 42 per­cent said ne­go­ti­ations will fall apart. “The deal just kicks the can down the road giv­ing Ir­an time and money to con­tin­ue their clandes­tine nuc­le­ar pro­gram,” one In­sider said. “We should not trust Ir­an’s charm of­fens­ive un­der Pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani.” Des­pite this achieve­ment, an­oth­er ad­ded, “it’s hard to see Ir­an mak­ing the stra­tegic de­cision to give up the as­pects of its nuc­le­ar pro­gram that make it threat­en­ing.”

1. Is the re­cent agree­ment between world powers and Ir­an to lim­it its nuc­le­ar pro­gram in ex­change for some sanc­tions re­lief a good deal?

(56 votes)

  • Yes 75.5%
  • No 24.5%


“As Win­ston Churchill once said, jaw-jaw is usu­ally bet­ter than war-war. A lim­ited agree­ment now may lead to a more com­pre­hens­ive agree­ment later. If not, there is al­ways an op­por­tun­ity to bring the ham­mer down.”

“It’s a first step, but a very im­port­ant one.”

“Since nukes wouldn’t buy Ir­an much power pro­jec­tion cap­ab­il­ity any­way, ba­sic­ally any deal that lowered the chance of war would have been good from a U.S. point of view. This was more than good be­cause it ac­tu­ally won some con­ces­sions.”

“The deal is a start, not a fi­nal deal. In it­self, it does not stop the U.S. or its al­lies and part­ners from tak­ing any fu­ture ac­tion, in­clud­ing mil­it­ary op­er­a­tions, if Ir­an fails to hold up its end of the deal.”

“Only if we are pre­pared to act if they do not co­oper­ate and act in good faith. No more lines in the sand. Put up or shut up and be pre­pared for the con­sequences be­cause there is no mil­it­ary op­tion to end the Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar pro­gram.”

“How can any­one who claims to be in­ter­ested in pre­vent­ing an Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar weapon op­pose the only meas­ure that has ever moved Ir­an farther away from a pos­sible bomb?”

“It’s a test, not a deal, but no crit­ic of this pro­cess has ex­plained why an act of war is bet­ter than chal­len­ging Tehran in this way.” 


“The al­tern­at­ive to dip­lomacy is war.”

“Yes, but only in that it pushes fi­nal de­cisions off for an­oth­er six months.”


“There are too many ways for Ir­an to abide by the deal and yet be in a po­s­i­tion to de­vel­op a weapon re­l­at­ively quickly. In ad­di­tion, by loosen­ing the sanc­tions, even tem­por­ar­ily, the agree­ment un­der­mines the ba­sic prin­ciple of the sanc­tions, which was not only to force Ir­an to ter­min­ate its weapons pro­gram but also to pre­vent an Is­raeli strike. Once six months have passed, if there is no sign of fur­ther pro­gress, a strike may be­come in­ev­it­able.”

“While it may provide Ir­an with sanc­tions re­lief, the deal does very little to stop Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram. It also does noth­ing to as­suage the con­cerns of U.S. re­gion­al al­lies like Is­rael and the GCC states. It is an ill-con­sidered ef­fort de­signed to grab head­lines and provide the pres­id­ent with some for­eign policy ‘street cred.’ “

“Def­in­itely not. the ques­tion is, giv­en how badly the ad­min­is­tra­tion has handled Ir­an for the last sev­er­al years, is this the least bad deal?”

“It’s a great deal — for Ir­an. They have con­trac­ted out their nuke work to the Norks and Paks so they win all around.”

2. Is this in­ter­im deal the first step to­ward an ac­cord which ul­ti­mately elim­in­ates the Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar pro­gram, or will ne­go­ti­ations in the end fail?

(56 votes)

  • This is the first step to­ward a last­ing agree­ment 58%
  • Ne­go­ti­ations will fall apart 42%

First step to­ward last­ing agree­ment

“The veri­fic­a­tion pro­cesses and in­ser­tion of per­son­nel from the U.S. and oth­er coun­tries in­to Ir­an will help to en­sure this deal’s suc­cess.”

“It may not be everything we want, but there’s a de­cent chance that it’ll be good enough.”

“A real coin toss on an­swer­ing this ques­tion. The ne­go­ti­ations will be vul­ner­able to far too many as yet un­fore­seen pres­sures over the next six months to make more than an in­formed guess.”

“But it will not elim­in­ate the Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar pro­gram — just keep it peace­ful.”

“If it is up to Is­rael, they will cer­tainly fail, which is why Is­rael should be side­lined for their own best in­terest.”

“Con­stant vi­gil­ance will be re­quired.”

“Some last­ing agree­ment is the key to peace. For my­self, I think very little will change if Ir­an gets the bomb. However, I am in the minor­ity, and if they ‘go for it,’ there will be war.”

“There will be a deal, but the Ir­a­ni­ans will work around it even­tu­ally. Some­time in the fu­ture, we will see an Ir­an with a nuc­le­ar-weapons cap­ab­il­ity.”

“If West­ern sanc­tions co­ali­tion can re­main uni­fied to re­im­pose even tough­er sanc­tions in six months should the in­ter­im deal fail, this plan will work.”

“While the deal may fail, oth­er re­gimes (Taiwan, South Africa, Libya) have de­cided they can get more se­cur­ity from trad­ing away their weapons pro­gram than keep­ing it. Con­sid­er­ing the al­tern­at­ives, it is worth the ef­fort.”

“And not just on the nuc­le­ar is­sue but, over time, to­ward nor­mal­iz­ing ties.”

“This could also be the first step to­ward an­oth­er even worse deal.”

“The fi­nal deal may not be total elim­in­a­tion of the nuc­le­ar pro­gram but will res­ult in elim­in­a­tion of the threat.”

“Sadly, I think this is the first step to a last­ing deal — one that will make the world more dan­ger­ous.”

“It’s a bad agree­ment that will last be­cause the pres­id­ent wants to wash his hands of the is­sue and fo­cus on do­mest­ic leg­acy build­ing, while Sec­State is happy to back in­to the the No­bel he cov­ets. The Ir­a­ni­ans will do just enough to keep them both happy.”

Ne­go­ti­ations will fall apart

“Ir­an will give up its am­bi­tion to be­come a nuc­le­ar-weapon state, after hav­ing de­voted so many re­sources to the en­deavor for over a dec­ade. Ir­an’s dip­lo­mat­ic strategy is to buy time un­til it can con­duct a nuc­le­ar test, prov­ing its new status.”

“Khame­nei’s rhet­or­ic has not changed, nor has he giv­en up any of his powers. Ul­ti­mately, he will walk away from any con­ces­sions to the West.”

“At the end of six months, the Ir­a­ni­ans will push for a ‘con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion.’ Shame on us if we al­low it to hap­pen.”

“While it would cer­tainly be de­sir­able, from the U.S. point of view, to reach a last­ing agree­ment with Ir­an, the like­li­hood of reach­ing such an agree­ment is re­mote giv­en the polit­ic­al hurdles and the mis­trust both sides must over­come. While we should cer­tainly try to achieve a long-term agree­ment, we have to plan for the like­li­hood that such ef­forts will fail.”

“I have little faith the Ir­a­ni­an su­preme lead­er is ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing giv­ing up his abil­ity to cre­ate a nuc­le­ar weapon. But as Yogi Berra once said, it’s hard to pre­dict the fu­ture when it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Ul­ti­mately, the Ir­a­ni­ans want a bomb and they will either have one or be able to as­semble one quickly.”

“I don’t think any­body ser­i­ous is talk­ing about ‘elim­in­at­ing the Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar pro­gram’ at this point. But sure — everything falls apart even­tu­ally. Al­though I should say in the in­terest of full dis­clos­ure I didn’t think we’d get this far.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders Poll is a peri­od­ic sur­vey of more than 100 de­fense and for­eign policy ex­perts. They in­clude: Gor­don Adams, Charles Al­len, Thad Al­len, James Bam­ford, Dav­id Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Ber­gen, Samuel “Sandy” Ber­ger, Dav­id Ber­teau, Steph­en Biddle, Nancy Bird­sall, Mari­on Blakey, Kit Bond, Stu­art Bowen, Paula Broad­well, Mike Breen, Mark Brun­ner, Steven Bucci, Nich­olas Burns, Dan By­man, James Jay Cara­fano, Phil­lip Carter, Wendy Cham­ber­lin, Mi­chael Cher­toff, Frank Cil­luffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clem­ons, Joseph Collins, Wil­li­am Court­ney, Lorne Cran­er, Ro­ger Cres­sey, Gregory Dahl­berg, Robert Dan­in, Richard Dan­zig, Daniel Drezn­er, Mack­en­zie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, An­drew Ex­um, Wil­li­am Fal­lon, Eric Farns­worth, Jacques Gansler, Steph­en Gan­yard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gun­zinger, John Hamre, Jim Harp­er, Mi­chael Hay­den, Mi­chael Her­son, Pete Hoek­stra, Bruce Hoff­man, Linda Hud­son, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Don­ald Ker­rick, Rachel Klein­feld, Lawrence Korb, Dav­id Kramer, An­drew Kre­pinev­ich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lind­say, Justin Lo­gan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ron­ald Marks, Bri­an Mc­Caf­frey, Steven Metz, Frank­lin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kev­in Neal­er, Mi­chael Oates, Thomas Pick­er­ing, Paul Pil­lar, Larry Pri­or, Steph­en Rade­maker, Marc Rai­mondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Ro­ten­berg, Frank Rug­giero, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Steph­en Ses­t­an­ovich, Sarah Se­wall, Mat­thew Sher­man, Jen­nifer Sims, Con­stan­ze Stelzen­müller, Frances Town­send, Mick Train­or, Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, Ted Stroup, Richard Wil­helm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Za­kheim, and Juan Za­r­ate.

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