World powers have reached a deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions.
US President Barack Obama said that with the deal, “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off” for Iran.
And President Hassan Rouhani said the “historic” deal opened a “new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world.
Mr Obama, who is trying to persuade a sceptical US Congress of the benefits, said it would oblige Iran to:
remove two-thirds of installed centrifuges and store them under international supervision
get rid of 98% of its enriched uranium
accept that sanctions would be rapidly restored if the deal was violated
permanently give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access “where necessary when necessary”
Sanctions relief would be gradual, Mr Obama said, with an arms embargo remaining in place for five years and an embargo on missiles for eight years.
The major drawback is the end of the sanctions. Jonah Goldberg explains:
The lifting of crippling sanctions, which will come about as part of the nuclear deal struck in Vienna, means that at least $150 billion, a sum Barack Obama first invoked in May, will soon enough flow to Tehran. With this very large pot of money, the regime will be able to fund both domestic works and foreign adventures in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere.
It is hard to imagine a scenario—at least in the short term—in which Hezbollah and other terror organizations on the Iranian payroll don’t see a windfall from the agreement. This is a bad development in particular for the people of Syria. Iran, as the Assad regime’s funder, protector, and supplier of weapons, foot soldiers, and strategists, is playing a crucial role in the destruction of Syria. Now Syrians will see their oppressor become wealthier and gain international legitimacy (legitimacy not just for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, which this deal will leave in place.)
Goldberg, however, points out that, despite these problems, the deal achieves our main objective of delaying Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, possibly for decades. I would also add that it prevents us from not reaching a deal and seeing the sanctions regime collapse, particularly from the Russian side, where Moscow is trying to form a stronger alliance with Iran.
A key point for me is that the sanctions are set to snap back automatically if Iran is found to have violated the deal, which is a key point. It would take a new UN resolution to remove them again.
Liberals are praising the deal; conservatives are denouncing it. I expect to see Chamberlain cited about a million times in the next sixty days (it is, after all, the only history the neocons are familiar with). But I don’t see that there was much of a choice here. Bombing Iran sounds good, but it would spark a massive international crisis and might not even work. Maintaining the sanctions would be fine, but that coalition is already crumbling and would collapse completely if we walked away from a deal.
In short, I think this is probably the least bad option given the cards we have.