On July 14, the United States and five other nations announced an agreement with Iran to limit Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting international sanctions. The agreement has already generated considerable controversy. Israel and some in the United States have been sharply critical, while President Obama and others have defended it. Congress has until mid-September to review the agreement. PAW asked several faculty members for their assessments of the agreement. Is this a good deal? A bad deal? A missed opportunity? The best that could be hoped for under the circumstances? We present their conclusions below.

Daniel Kurtzer (Frank Wojciechowski)
Daniel Kurtzer (Frank Wojciechowski)

Daniel Kurtzer, S. Daniel Abraham Visiting Professor in Middle East Policy Studies and former U.S. ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-2005) As a nonproliferation agreement, the agreement is quite strong. It blocks several pathways Iran had been employing to potentially reach a nuclear capability. It sets a severe limit on the amount of enriched uranium that can remain in the country. And it limits the number of centrifuges Iran is permitted to keep. There are three issues that matter most. One, to what extent can inspectors catch Iran should it cheat? That is an open question. Two, what happens if we catch them cheating? This goes to the will of the administration to take action. Will the president of the United States hold Iran to a very high standard, or will he accept some ambiguity in their behavior? Third, will Iran come clean on its previous nuclear program? This is part of a separate agreement Iran has made with the International Atomic Energy Agency. If Iran doesn’t report things that we know they have been doing, that would be another violation. Would we have been better off holding on to sanctions and squeezing Iran harder until it capitulated and abandoned its nuclear program altogether? That is unrealistic. Most experts believe that the sanctions were not going to be effective for much longer. Russia and China certainly would have backed away from them if the United States had walked away from negotiations. Some have asked why we did not include all of Iran’s other bad behavior in the deal. The explanation comes down to tactics. The administration made a choice to isolate the nuclear issue from all the others. We know Iran is doing other bad things in the region, such as backing Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, but the administration believes that we are in a stronger position to address those problems if Iran is not also developing a nuclear capability.

David Menashri, visiting fellow at Princeton; founding director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University The Iranians made a pragmatic decision to make some concessions on the nuclear issue in order to get relief from the sanctions. The end result is that those who wanted just to delay the Iranian nuclear program can be satisfied. Still, I would say the Iranians won. Two years ago, the Iranians were desperate. The international sanctions were ruining their economy, and the currency lost much of its value. Unemployment was high and so was inflation. Their regional allies (Syria, Hizballah, Iraqi government) were in trouble. Disillusionment and disenchantment were mounting. So the Iranian government realized that they needed to make some concessions on the nuclear front to achieve their other interests. The Americans think it is good that there is an agreement — even though it is not good. The Iranians cheated in the past and lied about their nuclear program. So those who want 100 percent proof that Iran will not cheat on this agreement will not be satisfied. President Obama made dialogue with Iran an important message in his 2008 campaign and later viewed reaching an agreement with Iran as an important part of his agenda. When the Iranian people demonstrated against Ahmadinejad in 2009, Obama said nothing, yet he was quick to demand that Hosni Mubarak step down when the Egyptian people demonstrated against him in 2011. Why? Because Obama wanted a dialogue with the Iranian government. The new realities in the Middle East (primarily the emergence of even more radical movements, mainly ISIS) made them appear as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Critics have said — and rightly so — that this agreement only addresses Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranians have not given up their ideology and they are not going to withdraw from their struggle against the United States and its allies, including Israel. Given the Iranian weakness two years ago, and the transatlantic alliance, they could achieve more. However, the very agreement, the atmosphere surrounding Iran, and the realities on the ground (not to speak of Russian support) served their interests. The Islamic regime has gained finally legitimacy, and their nuclear program — even if with significant delay — has gained Western approval. Iran is welcomed to return to the international community. It is remained to be seen if they abide by their nuclear commitments and also modify their attitudes at home (greater freedoms and human rights) and in the region.

Robert J. Goldston, acting director of the Woodrow Wilson School’s Program on Science and Global Security and former director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory This is an extremely good deal for the United States and for Israel. It is better in many respects than the U.S. Parameters from April 2. It is vastly better than the world we will face if Congress forces the U.S. not to sign the deal. For example, a 24-day notice for inspections is vastly better than no inspections, nowhere, no time. It takes much longer than 24 days to build up to — or clean up from — an enrichment facility, and 5,060 centrifuges and 300 kilograms of 3.5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride is much better than 25,000 centrifuges and a dozen tons of UF6. Zero weapons-grade plutonium production is much better than at least one bomb’s worth per year. If Congress scuttles the deal, both the international sanctions and the monitoring and limits on Iran’s program will evaporate. This is the worst of all possible worlds. In that case, our only option will be to bomb Iran’s nuclear program every few years as it becomes harder and harder to find and is dug deeper and deeper under mountaintops. That path would likely lead to a major Middle East war, terrorist attacks worldwide, and an Iranian bomb in five to 10 years. A single Hiroshima-like bomb over Tel Aviv would kill about 125,000 people. Iran’s current regime would not hesitate to threaten to use it, or even to use it, if it felt itself to be facing imminent defeat. Thus our only realistic choice, if Congress scuttles the deal, would be to invade and occupy Iran within about three years. The deal will provide relief to the Iranian people. This is a two-edged sword. Increased communication with the West may help moderate Iran’s view of us. But increased resources will certainly allow Iran to increase its aid to our enemies, such as Hezbollah. We will need to counter that aid with increased aid to our friends in the Middle East. The U.S. certainly needs to work closely with Israel and the Gulf States to strengthen their missile defenses to the point where the likelihood of a successful Iranian nuclear strike is near zero. This will take time that the deal will buy for us. In the very long run, under the deal, Iran will certainly have more centrifuge capability. However, we will have the Additional Protocol with real-time monitoring of enrichment levels for at least 15 years. We should work to gain agreement by the Board of Governors of the IAEA to make this the norm within all countries’ Additional Protocols, and so in Iran’s not only until 2030 but in perpetuity. This will mean that even after 2030 the world will know in hours, not days, if Iran begins to cheat on its NPT commitments in declared facilities. (Days would probably be good enough, but hours would be better.) And, under the Additional Protocol, we will have adequate access to determine if Iran is constructing clandestine facilities. Furthermore, unlike in North Korea, Western eyes will be all over the country. All options will still be on the table for a future president, as President Obama has stated, if Iran violates the deal or, in the long run, its Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Congress should insist that we increase aid to our friends in the Middle East to combat (or better: deter) Iranian-sponsored terrorism, and that we help our friends to strengthen their missile defenses. Congress could also insist that we work to make real-time enrichment monitoring an international norm in all countries’ Additional Protocols. But Congress should not throw us into the untenable world where Iran is neither under monitoring and limits, nor under international sanctions.

Hossein Seyed Mousavian, associate research scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School and the Program on Science and Global Security, and former Iranian spokesman during its nuclear negotiations with the European Union (2003-2005) This roughly 100-page agreement represents a milestone achievement in the cause of nonproliferation. This deal ensures a fully transparent Iranian nuclear program in a verifiable way, adopts new sets of measures guaranteeing there can be no diversion toward weaponization in Iran, acknowledges Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its soil for peaceful purposes, and secures the removal of the draconian sanctions regime imposed on Iran. Furthermore, this deal serves as a model for how to address future proliferation challenges throughout the world. Several principles can be enshrined into international nonproliferation law based on this agreement, including ceasing the production of plutonium and the separation of plutonium, halting the production of highly enriched uranium, and prohibiting the stockpiling beyond peaceful domestic needs of nuclear fuel. Broader steps that can also be taken after the implementation of this agreement include establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, a longtime goal of Iran. The Middle East is already in an incredibly volatile state, and the possession of nuclear weapons by any power only serves to exacerbate instability and tension throughout the region. This diplomatic agreement also marks a major step toward decreasing tensions and hostility between Iran and the United States. It can be used as a starting point to address other areas of conflict between the two nations, specifically on issues related to regional rivalries and security-related issues such as terrorism. Iran and the United States both stand to benefit immensely from increased cooperation with one another. By compromising on the nuclear issue, the door is opened.

Interviews conducted and condensed by Mark F. Bernstein ’83