Thursday, August 6, was the 70th anniversary of the complete destruction of Hiroshima, Japan by the atomic bomb. Photos showing the devastation, along with first-hand accounts of those who observed it, provide us a glimpse of the unimaginable destructive force of the bomb. And today’s atomic weapons are 100’s of times more powerful. This anniversary should serve as a backdrop for the current agreement with Iran to severely limit their nuclear program. Should we support the agreement or not?
I see the arguments in two major categories—those that revolve around technical issues and those that essentially try to predict the consequences of either our acceptance or our rejection of the agreement. In addition, some critics question the fifteen year span for the agreement as too short. Technical issues include enrichment levels, numbers of centrifuges, the facility inspection regime and estimates of breakout time. Assessing consequences entails predicting the future. Will Iran adhere to the agreement? Are we just funding more terrorism in the Middle East once the sanctions are lifted and Iran sells oil? Is a better deal (from our perspective) possible if we reject the current one?
The US, China, Russia and the EU agreed to and implemented comprehensive sanctions that were effective in spurring Iran to negotiate. We need to remember that purpose of the sanctions was to induce Iran to negotiate and not to wage a permanent economic war. The sanctions by all accounts were effective and lifting them constitutes the main benefit to Iran.
The negotiations by my reckoning have taken over eighteen months and the US and it partners have invested significant time, effort and prestige to reach this agreement with Iran. Obviously any agreement has to satisfy both sides. The general definition of success is that both sides are equally unhappy with the terms.
Rejection of the agreement would send us back to square 1. I’m getting into my own predictions for the future, but based on what I believe to be the situation, it is not likely that our partners will agree to continue sanctions in the face of rejection by the US. It also seems unlikely that Iran would acquiesce to prolonging talks in return for the prospect of even more intrusive curtailment of their sovereignty. So we have to ask, deal or no deal? And specifically, what are the consequences of no deal?
So let’s declare victory and do the deal. Whatever its shortcomings it creates a structure for the next 15 years, which is a long time in today’s world. ‘No deal’ takes us down a retrograde path that amplifies uncertainty. We need to move on and face other serious circumstances that require concerted diplomatic and presidential attention.