Bad Iran deal worse than no deal
November 9th, 2013
11:12 AM ET

Bad Iran deal worse than no deal

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes. The views expressed are his own.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Geneva on Friday amidst speculation that marathon talks might yield a nuclear deal, or at least an agreed framework for future talks. Should the two sides come to an agreement, both the State Department and the White House will hail the breakthrough, even as they caution that they will re-impose sanctions should Iran violate the deal. That would be an empty threat. As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can attest, diplomats don’t abandon a process once begun.

The Iranian nuclear portfolio has stymied diplomats for well over a decade. The Iran issue was the first crisis outside the borders of Europe on which the European Union took the lead. EU officials hoped to show that diplomacy and multilateral organizations could be more successful than cowboy unilateralism. The crisis accelerated in 2005 when, after several warnings, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Iran in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards agreement. The diplomatic center of gravity then shifted to New York, where the U.N. Security Council passed a series of resolutions, many by unanimous vote, imposing increasing sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Both the United States and European Union augmented these sanctions with increasingly broad unilateral measures targeting both Iran’s oil industry and its currency. Collectively, the sanctions had effect.

By any Western standard, Tehran has every reason to come in from the cold. The Iranian economy is in shambles. In September, the Iranian Bureau of Statistics announced that the Iranian economy, already weak, had shrunk 5.4 percent over the previous year. Inflation upon basic foodstuffs is high. According to the Iranian Central Bank, over the past year, the price of bread increased 38.8 percent, dairy products were up more than 50 percent, and the price of tea increased over 58 percent. Smokers – and Iran is full of them – suffered even greater sticker shock. The price of tobacco nearly doubled in a year.

The problem is that the Iranian leadership does not operate by Western standards. Seldom does the Iranian government place the wellbeing of its population above its own revolutionary ideology. The Supreme Leader considers himself the Deputy of the Messiah on Earth. Sovereignty comes from God; what the Iranian people may think is beside the point.

Iranian officials will certainly say what is needed to relieve sanctions, but the Iranian leadership has no intention of giving up its nuclear ambitions. On February 9, 2005, Hassan Rouhani gave a speech entitled “Iran’s Measures Rob the Americans of Foresight,” in which he outlined a doctrine of surprise. The Islamic Republic achieved repeated victories over the West because “the actions of the regime took the world by surprise.” In 2009, Rouhani bragged about dividing and deceiving the West in order to advance Iran’s nuclear program. If at first you succeed, try, try again.

More from GPS: How West sees Iran's nuclear program

Deception is not hard when an adversary wants to be deceived. The West celebrated Rouhani’s phone call with Obama – never mind that on October 2, according to Iranian radio, Rouhani backtracked on his willingness to compromise in his own press conference back in Tehran. Diplomats applauded hints that Iran might close the underground nuclear facility in Fordo, never mind that the same day Western sources reported the possible concession, Iran’s nuclear chief ruled it out. The State Department breathed a collective sigh of relief when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appeared to bless Rouhani’s diplomacy by calling for “heroic flexibility,” never mind that his aides quickly clarified that he endorsed only a change in tactics, not a change in policy. For his part, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif declared to the Iranian press Thursday that “the Islamic Republic of Iran makes no deal over its [nuclear] right.”  Kayhan, a newspaper whose editor Khamenei appoints and often serves as his voice, last month ridiculed the notion of confidence-building with the West.

It appears Iran has not made any deal that would curtail its nuclear ambition. As described, the framework upon which U.S. and Iranian negotiators appear to agree fails to resolve those issues of most concern to regional states. Obama has unilaterally waived Security Council resolutions demanding a complete enrichment cessation. There may be some enrichment suspension at key sites but, as Rouhani bragged in 2009, he used an early suspension to install new and better centrifuges. And while Iran might convert some more highly enriched uranium to less usable fuel rods, it has backtracked its own earlier proposals to ship fissile material abroad.

Of even more strategic concern, the deal does not address Arak. On Thursday, a German court sentenced four businessmen who sold components to Iran for that plutonium-producing plant. When Arak becomes operational within a year, it can produce enough plutonium for two bombs per year. Nor has Iran made any concession on Parchin, where Iran conducted weapons research. In short, Kerry can arrive back from Geneva and declare triumphantly, “I have in my hand a paper signed by Mohammad Javad Zarif,” but the agreement does not stop Iran from assembling the material or know-how needed to make a bomb. There is no truth and reconciliation component to the deal: Iran needs not come clean on its previous activities. If the regime had truly has a change of heart, such transparency should not be an issue.

Diplomats may celebrate a deal, but a bad deal can be worse than no deal. Sometimes, the hangover is not worth the celebration.

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear

soundoff (194 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    US Senate panel just now authorized an increase of a half billion dollars of American tax payers money in aid to Israel. Israel hogs major share of our tax dollars already, 11-17 billion dollars a year in announced and secret funding.

    November 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  2. saywhat

    "Israeli intelligence sources contradict Bibi and Congress on Iran" news.
    "Sale of arms to Saudis prompts France to bomb Iran negotiations" news.
    Both these countries -Israel & S.Arabia for their own reasons are trying to sabotage US-Iran negotiations and pose a threat to world peace.

    November 10, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  3. saywhat

    My posts are now being blocked.

    November 10, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      The Thought Police at work at CNN. Try at different times . I think they are understaffed and have to go to the bathroom now and than. Real proof of our "freedoms ' ,saywhat .

      November 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  4. saywhat

    @chrissy
    My compliments on your meaningful contributions on this thread. Thank you.

    November 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  5. Henri

    Iran has just as much right to possess nuclear technology and nuclear weapons as any other country. For a country such as the US who has hundred of such devices to try to dictate to another country what they can and can not do in relation to nuclear development is utter hypocrisy.

    Iran isn't the destabilizing influence in the Middle East; the US and Israel are. If Iran, or any other Arab/Persian/Muslim nation does develop nuclear capable weapons, they won't be the ones who initiate the inevitable conflict; Israel will be. So who's the real problem? Iran or Israel? Anything resembling a remotely objective review of Middle Eastern events since 1948 can only conclude that it is Israel, with the support of the US, who are the real problem.

    I say let Iran have nuclear weapons if it wants to. And if Iran and Israel nuke each other, well that will be two problems that we can stop worrying about.

    November 10, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
    • Ted

      You're nuts to think allowing Iran to possess and possibly use nuclear weapons at worst, would mean just no more Iran or Israel to worry about. The scope of a nuclear armed Iran goes much, much further. As supporters of terrorism world wide, all we need is Iran to start funneling portable nuclear devices to terrorist groups. Any nuclear strike by Iran on any target, won't be limited to that target alone. The conflict will escalate, eventually bringing a possible nuclear holocaust down on the rest of us.

      If no agreement is reached that brings the nuclear enrichment process, to a total hault, then sanctions should be tightened further until Iran is willing to confine it's nuclear program to the generation of electricity and for medical needs only. Nothing else. Too bad if those who possess nuclear weapons are hypocrites not allowing a nut case regime in Iran to wield the threat of nuclear war on the middle east.

      November 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Reply
    • acrabahyiouspe

      Do you comprehend what it means to allow Iran to have immunity from military intervention? It means a swallowed-up Middle East.

      November 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  6. allenwoll

    Iran is NOT a credible threat since it could NOT survive its use of a nuclear weapon.

    November 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Reply
    • Paulus

      The biggest problem in western assessment of Iranian thrreat is simply the assumption that they behave by our same values. Never forget the 72 virgins on your service on Paradise. And yes, that this is no joke.

      November 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  7. chrissy

    I agree @ Henri! They would have to be very stupid to not want to have them when they are surrounded by countries that do! And thank you @ saywhat! You know i have the utmost respect for you and you have repeatedly showed me that you are an honorable person and im quite proud to have you as my friend!

    November 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • guest

      @chrissy, Hi I am the other sock-puppet account for Henri. We can go home tonight and have 3-some. The other description is we can go and f^%&$* ourselfs.

      November 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  8. changeirannow

    With the nuclear talks collapsing, any restart in negotiations must include human rights considerations. As a party to several human rights treaties and as a Member State of the United Nations, Iran is legally obligated to protect the civil, political and religious rights of its citizens. Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iran has been involved in large-scale abuses of human rights, including systematic persecution of religious minorities and severe restrictions on the freedoms of expression and assembly. The West shouldn't be deceived by false promises, but instead hold Iran accountable for its acts and behavior.

    November 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  9. Paddy Singh

    If anyone is responsible for the Ayatollahs being in power, the clerics who ordain that power with which they rule, comes from the Divine, it is the US and UK. By overthrowing the moderate Mosadegh in the early fifties to reinstall the Shah, the CIA effected the installation of Allah's representatives. It serves the West right for interfering in a sovereign country's affairs but unfortunately the US has never learned from having its fingers burnt these last 6 decades.

    November 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  10. Cyrus

    To those Israel sympathizers who have a habit of turning a blind eye to (and justifying) whatever Israel does in the name of security:

    "Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that rivals the brutality and racism of apartheid South Africa. Its democracy—which was always exclusively for Jews—has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country toward fascism. Many of Israel’s most enlightened and educated citizens—1 million of them—have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, has become an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy."

    From "Imploding the Myth of Israel" by Chris Hedges

    November 10, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  11. Cyrus

    Moderator: what happened to my other post??

    November 10, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      It was not a moderator, Cyrus, but a censor from the CNN Thought Police like in 1984 . They must not like your posts. Maybe it is contrary to their propaganda ?

      November 11, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  12. Mike

    Very intelligent discussion ( as usual ) on Fareeds show about Iran today ( Sunday ). It was good to see that despite the incessant war mongering by Israel's Netanyahu and the Republicans John McWar and Lindsay (the parrot) Graham.
    Intelligent and reasonable people still agree that every attempt for a peacefull resolution to Iran's nuclear program should be made before we rush into yet another disasterous war. Have the Right Wing crazies not done enough damage already ?!

    November 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Reply
    • ✠RZ✠

      Enough damage you ask? Barely scratching the surface in all likelihood. Now think about it. You got a little strip of dirt with about 11 million Jews and maybe 200 nukes on it all surrounded by more Muslims, Arabs, etc, than you can count. I'd swear that someone must have given them all those nukes and is paying them continuously to just stay put and hold their ground until...until....until what? Islam converts to Hebrew so they'll be one big happy family? So what's in it for Uncle Sam?

      November 10, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • acrabahyiouspe

      Zakaria is a traitor who wants Iran to get nuclear weapons.

      November 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  13. acrabahyiouspe

    I'm seriously worried. I don't believe that President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

    And once they have the capability, it's a matter of taking a political decision – which it can make at any time in the future, to gain nuclear weapons.

    They're going the same route as India and Pakistan. Only unlike India and even Pakistan, Iran is to dangerous to be allowed to have the bomb.

    What is going to happen in the Middle East when Iran gets nukes? It cannot be restrained by Mutually Assured destruction. It will destabilize all the regional governments with its terrorist proxies as it has done in Lebanon and Iraq, and attempted in Bahrain. And it will swallow the oil rich region, once it is immune to military intervention, thanks to its nukes.

    November 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  14. steve

    Wrong. No deal keeps the pressure on Iran. Iran supports terrorism around the world and an agreement just to take our minds off the economy mess is blatant politics. We need the opposite of what Rubin was suggesting, tighten the restrictions!

    November 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • Goy

      I can't wait to die for Israel. We must never forget to remember the 9001 trillions Jews that died to the evil Nazi regime.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  15. jonathan Allen

    The Republicans will block any deal no matter how good or bad, Their goal is to make the president fail by denying him any achievement. "Sink the ship to make the captain look bad!"

    November 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • Badly-Bent

      "Glub Glub" said the middle class!

      November 10, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  16. chrissy

    No truer words have been spoken thus far here @ Jonathan Allen! And that is precisely how this will turn out! And would produce just cause for prosecution of treason!

    November 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  17. Badly-Bent

    Time to reveal the next level of sanctions!

    November 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  18. chrissy

    My you do get around doncha JR aka everybodys sockpuppet! Too boring for you on the TJI blog? To bad!

    November 10, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Reply
  19. ✠RZ✠

    The MIC, DOD, and US Dollar cannot be supported by the US tax base. It's' economy collapsed in 2008 and has since been kept afloat by hot air, debt, and paper which will not last much longer. A major war is now the only viable option to possibly help subsidize the income and jobs of the MIC and DOD. The who, where, how, and why of the war is important, but not as much as the if. While both Russia and China are making efforts to prevent it, they are also preparing for the worst.

    November 10, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  20. chrissy

    @ RZ, ive heard that very thing from my uncle and my father, may he RIP. They both said its the only thing that will bring our economy back. I had been hoping they were wrong but im beginning to believe it to be true. God help us all.

    November 10, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  21. Joe

    An "opinion" from another Conservative Think Tank (A E I ) that War is always better than Diplomacy. No surprises here. Truthfully,...Mr. Rubin does not know anymore than the people posting here whether Iran is negotiating in good faith or not. He is also judging their "negotiations" based on Western values. He,...and others,...are failing to acknowledge that this is not a Western oriented society. The "game" is played differently there . Also,...their President has the same problem we have here in the US. An opposition party determined to do the opposite of what he wants no matter what the cost to their country. I wonder if Mr. Rubin's "opinion" isn't in that same class.

    November 11, 2013 at 9:01 am | Reply
  22. Der Shoah

    If Iran can't have nukes then why do we let Pakistan have them? Pakistan also housed Bin Laden

    November 11, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  23. jeb stuart

    The British position I get, they are in partnership with Iran to develop a huge oil field. They are already going ahead and drilling altruistically, carbon emission taxes and phony green industries, like burning food, doesn't work. The Brits need this deal as much as the Iranians need a nuclear device. Really? Obama is acting like the veto tyrant he is in his heart obnoxiously exercising a unilateral approach Bush would have been crucified for taking. The fact is where are the facts? The world does not need a Islamic Revolutionary like Rouhani with Ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. The proliferation has already begun and Saudi will soon acquire a bomb from Pakistan. All these closed Islamic shariah law societies being heavily armed is not good. All they need to go boom is a religious rash of the itchy kind that the 12th Imam has come. I wonder why some Clerics in Iran think that Imam is Obama?

    November 12, 2013 at 8:49 am | Reply
  24. Dave

    Are you people who are writing that Iran has a right to have nuclear power out of your minds? Do you know that they just had a "death to America" march? Did you know that while they might have a moderate government now if the hard liners come back to power, guess what, they still have nuclear power. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a democracy we are taking about!

    November 12, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Reply
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