The deal reached between Iran and the P5+1 is top news today and probably much of this week. In one of the few instances of a media buzz word accurately describing a major news event, I do think the agreement, although simply an interim deal, is historic. It wasn’t very long ago that even low-level diplomacy with Iran was totally out of the question.
The deal was finalized in the wee hours of Sunday morning, but already there are a number of myths being propagated throughout the media. Here are a few to watch out for:
1. Iran got too much sanctions relief. Actually, Iran got almost no sanctions relief. The bulk of the goods for Iran is that they got about $7 billion of their own overseas assets, out of approximately $100 billion, unfrozen. Some minor, negligible sanctions were eased on gold and precious medals transactions and to facilitate the delivery of spare parts for Iran’s outmoded airplanes. These will have little positive effect on the Iranian economy, which is a large part of Rouhani’s domestic selling point for diplomacy. The crippling economic sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors – widely considered the most devastating – remain in place.
2. Iran’s enrichment program is left largely intact, leaving room for Iran to cheat. This deal freezes or rolls back the entirety of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Half of it’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, the aspect of the nuclear program most cited by Iran hawks, will be oxidized and the other half will be irreversibly converted into fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor. For the whole of the 6 month period over which this agreement reigns, Iran agreed not to enrich any uranium past 5%. Furthermore, no “further advances” will be made at the facilities at Natanz, Fordow, or Arak. And finally, declared facilities will be inspected daily – not weekly – daily to ensure compliance.
Iran has no incentive to cheat. The hawks’ argument that Iran will use this interim deal to breakout and dash for a nuclear weapon are foolish and illogical. The Iranian regime has staked its domestic and international credibility on this diplomatic path. If it falls apart because they defied the very deal they pushed for and agreed to, they’d look ridiculous. Moreover, it’s clearly preferable in the Iranian cost-benefit analysis to willingly roll back their enrichment program in exchange for thorough sanctions relief and greater international prestige arising out of their acknowledged cooperation.
Not to mention the fact that Iran cheating would give the U.S. or Israel a perfect excuse for bombing, which Iran obviously doesn’t want.
3. The historic deal only materialized because of crippling economic sanctions. This ignores the record. Iran offered the U.S. an even better deal back in 2003 and they were rebuffed by a recalcitrant Bush administration who chose to isolate and sanction Iran instead of respond to diplomacy. In response to increasing U.S. sanctions, Iran’s enrichment program expanded and intensified. In 2003, Iran had 164 centrifuges operating and no 20% enriched uranium. After a decade of escalating sanctions, in 2013 Iran had 19,000 centrifuges and a sizable stockpile of 20% uranium. Only when Rouhani was elected and Iran was engaged in secret negotiations with Washington with the prospects of peaceful compromise on the horizon did Iran halt its installation of new centrifuges and put enrichment on hold.
4. This deal sets the parties up for failure in more comprehensive upcoming talks. This one isn’t all myth, but most media explanations argue this with the wrong reasons. Take, for example, this ridiculous Josh Rogin piece which argues Iran doesn’t feel pressured to comply with the agreement or to cooperate in a second-phase deal because Obama didn’t bomb Syria. The old “credibility” argument.
Yes, reaching agreement between all the parties for a more comprehensive and lasting deal 6 months down the road will be harder than it was this time around. But not if the U.S. and its allies are willing to compromise a little. This first phase deal is mostly Iran making concessions and the international community saying, ‘Ok, we’ll play.’ This won’t fly the next time around. The U.S. and its allies can’t get used to such lopsided deal and expect it to happen again. They will have to make concessions too and demonstrate they are serious about lifting sanctions. If they can manage that, then a more comprehensive deal is perfectly within reach.