As someone who has followed the Iran nuclear negotiations closely for the past two years, I am surprised at how far the Iranians have traveled. I did not expect them to agree to this many potential restrictions on their nuclear program. Sure, this plan is not complete — hard negotiations remain to hit the June 30 deadline for a final agreement.
But as the details get discussed in the coming weeks, I urge everyone to remember five basic points:
- Get beyond the numbers. The numbers of centrifuges, the percentages of enriched uranium, the “breakout timeline” that aims to predict how long it might take Iran to build a single bomb under the agreement, the fate of Iran’s three nuclear facilities — these details are important, yes. Experts will outline the pros and cons on each of the framework agreement’s detailed points about various Iranian nuclear technologies. But opponents of any rapprochement with Iran don’t want any deal, no matter what is in it. They will try to kill any deal that doesn’t reduce Iran to 0% nuclear technology. Their strategy will be to make the coming debate center on numerical details. They are already doing this. Just watch them.
It’s not that details are not important — but this agreement is not solely about nuclear weapons even though most of the words in it are.
2. This agreement is about something more than nukes. Why did the Iranians celebrate in the streets the day the agreement was announced, greet their negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as a hero, and allow President Obama’s remarks to be broadcast live on their national television? Those celebrants in the streets of Tehran weren’t talking of centrifuges and percentages of enriched uranium; they were expressing simple joy and optimism. For ordinary Iranians, students, and businesses there, it’s not that this deal is so great; it’s that any deal is great. That’s because Iranians are desperate to rejoin the world community. They want relief from the extremely tough sanctions that have been strangling their economy for years. They want to emerge from the 36 years of diplomatic and economic isolation that began with the Iranian revolution of 1979, and the subsequent seizure and release, 444 days later, of U.S. diplomats. We have a long memory for the humiliating hostage crisis. Iranians are ready to let it go; so should we.
- Keep your eye on President Obama’s strategic goal — to bring Iran back into the “community of nations.” Why is that important? When a country is isolated internationally, its leaders keep their grip on power by constantly raising the specter of a foreign enemy, in Iran’s case it’s the “Great Satan” – the United States. When a county is opened up, more moderate and balanced views emerge. There is nothing stronger, nothing more powerful that the West can do to diminish over time the control of hardline Iranian clerical leaders than to approve this deal. Nothing. That is Barack Obama’s long-term strategic goal here. Agreements are not just about words on paper, they are about offering a way forward for Iran. Isolating a country retards change, it does not enable it.
- The 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran and 187 other countries have ratified or acceded to (only Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea and the new nation of South Sudan have not) give all signers the absolute right to develop peaceful nuclear technology. Here it is in plain English in Article IV of the treaty: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” The basic deal of the NPT is that you give up the right to develop nuclear weapons in trade for the right to develop nuclear energy. That is why we can’t simply ask Iran to totally give up its nuclear technology program. That would violate the NPT that Iran, the United States, and most other countries signed 45 years ago.
- Israel was the country that introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Most experts think Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, plus the means to deliver them accurately. It could destroy all of Iran’s major cities in minutes. Israel has never signed the NPT. Furthermore, Israel lied to presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon about its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, and ignored those presidents’ considerable hard work to prevent Israel from obtaining the weapons. In 1969, President Nixon and then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir reached agreements, still secret, that experts say ceased U.S. efforts to block Israel’s nuclear weapons program in return for Israel not brandishing or openly threatening their neighbors with them, or conducting nuclear explosive tests. That agreement has held. Still, Israel has never allowed international inspections of its nuclear facilities. Iran has been giving regular access to its facilities by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency during these current negotiations. The current deal on the table between Iran and the P5 +1negotiators (The United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the European Union) is far more intrusive in terms of inspections and verification than anything that has been asked of Israel.
Given the Holocaust, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is understandable. But this potential deal holds the prospect of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons for the next 20 years; opening Iran up to the world economy and its moderating influences; avoiding a dangerous nuclear arms race between Arab states and Iran; and preventing a new Middle Eastern Cold War that will not be to Israel’s benefit.