What critics are getting wrong about the Iran deal
November 24th, 2013
10:16 AM ET

What critics are getting wrong about the Iran deal

By Fareed Zakaria

If you’re trying to decide what to think about the deal struck between the major powers and Iran in Geneva, here’s a suggestion – imagine what would have happened if there had been no deal.

In fact, one doesn’t have to use much imagination. In 2003, Iran approached the United States with an offer to talk about its nuclear program. The George W. Bush administration rejected the offer because it believed that the Iranian regime was weak, had been battered by sanctions, and would either capitulate or collapse if Washington just stayed tough.

So there was no deal. What was the result? Iran had 164 centrifuges operating in 2003; today it has 19,000 centrifuges. Had the Geneva talks with Iran broken down, Iran would have continued expanding its nuclear program. Yes they are now under tough sanctions, but they were under sanctions then as well.

More from CNN: 20 questions about the deal

And yet, the number of centrifuges grew exponentially (Despite all the sanctions and sabotage, keep in mind, the costs of a nuclear program are small for an oil rich country like Iran.)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been opposed to a deal. But is it in Israel’s interest that Iran’s program keep growing in size and scope? That’s a strategy that assumes that either Iran is heading for collapse, or that a military strike will take place that would permanently destroy Iran’s entire nuclear program. This seems more like wishful thinking than tough strategizing.

The agreement that the major powers have gotten in Geneva essentially freezes Iran’s program for six months – and rolls back some key aspects of it – while a permanent deal is negotiated. In return, Iran gets about $7 billion of sanctions relief, a fraction of what is in place against it. The main sanctions – against its oil and banking sectors – stay fully in place.

More from GPS: What would JFK have done about Iran?

This is a sensible deal – signed off on by France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – but it is just an interim deal and not a historic rapprochement. And that’s why so much of the opposition to it is misplaced.

Washington has many points of disagreement with Tehran, from its opposition to Israel and its support of Hezbollah to its funding of Iraq militias. This is not like the opening to China – it’s more like an arms control deal with the Soviet Union, with two wary adversaries trying to find some common ground.

Many countries in the Middle East – from Israel to Saudi Arabia – have legitimate concerns about Iran. But many of these countries have also gotten used to having a permanent enemy against whom they could rail, focusing domestic attention, driving ideological and sectarian divides, and garnering support.

The Middle East is undergoing so much change. Perhaps this is one more change.  And perhaps Iran will come in from the Cold. For now, this deal is just one step, not a seismic shift. But it is still a step forward.

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Topics: Iran

soundoff (427 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    Yes. This Congress has the power to make a mockery of itself by derailing the Iran deal and Pr.Obama has had to face such threats all along his presidency.

    November 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  2. chrissy

    Lol @ saywhat, THIS congress has done a very fine job of making a mockery of itself for a very long time already! A perfectly good waste of oxygen is what they are! Useless!

    November 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  3. Kabanaman

    Mr. Zakaria, you have a well balanced analysis of the situation. However, I would have wished that approached would have been more like Nixon and the communist china opening. The situation in the ME is dire and requires a quick fix. None of our allies have any interest whatsoever to help resolve the situation. Our nation/economy is bleeding and unfortunately most of our so called allies are somewhat happy to see it happening. Isreal is more interested in receiving its share of US handouts than worrying about our national and international interests. Saudis are more interested in staying in power and stockpiling wealth than what goes on around them.
    Unfortunately, the ones that need to worry about the interests of USA are the very same that put the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia ahead of ours. When was the last time any of these two countries did something for us?

    November 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Reply
  4. jrt1098

    The syncophants just can't help themselves ... Iran will have Nuclear weapons and that is NOT a good thing, not now,not in the future, and it is ALL do to a FAILURE of this administration. Fareed wants us all to believe that somehow the World is a safer place ... DIRECTLY because of the skill of Barack Husein Obama ! Meanwhile back in REALITYville ... SYRIA is a mess, EGYPT is a mess, BENGHAZI is a COVER UP ! Israel is more isolated than ever ... and on the day Kerry announces this "deal" ! The Iranian Foreign Minister is "PUBLICLY" telling his flock that they can still enrich Uranium ??? This Administration is INCOMPETENT ... like NO other in our history !

    November 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  5. Microscopic.Truth

    The truth is there is no easy solution with Iran.
    If we continued and added to the sanctions, as the right-wing hawks would like, you virtually guarantee Iran goes underground (literally) and accelerates it's program in defiance.
    In which case, we lose monitoring almost entirely, and must either attack their facilities, risking all out war with Iran and risk it spilling over into the entire region. Or we let them build nukes and try to manage them after the fact. Not a good option in my opinion.
    We open diplomatic ties, have a serious dialogue, hammer out a fair deal, and monitor them very closely. If they break the deal we are in a better position to find out, and will have an internationally-backed agreement to back further actions if necessary. Meanwhile, we start to ease sanctions which hurt the Iranian people the most, and maintain open relations. This is the better option in my opinion. And remember it isn't written in stone. If Iran falters, the deal can be taken off the table and sanctions reinstated.

    November 28, 2013 at 9:42 am | Reply
  6. chrissy

    Well said @ Mycroscopic Truth! Very well said! Much better than blaming the POTUS for every stinking thing as some people are so very quick to do! Im not quite sure what exactly is the motivation behind that is, whether its a race thing or whether its just because he so obviously cares about humanity and they don't. Either way is NOT very attractive! So my applause to you for a well thought out post!

    November 28, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  7. chrissy

    And with that i would also like to add, more people should THINK before they speak. Now i will take my old self off so i can "reminise the 70s and let the *ahem* youngsters do the thinking"! And yea that was a post i recently read from someone i had priorly had high regards for!

    November 28, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  8. f. teymourian

    there was no urgency to make a temporary deal with the mullahs in Iran. I am Iranian and believe me I know mullahs and their mentality; they have been cheating the Iranians for 1400 years and they are going to cheat the west and play out this game until they get their hands on nuclear weapon. The best way for the west was to have continued the sanctions until they dismantled their nuclear apparatus and for sure they would have. There is no hardline faction or moderate faction in Iran. They play this hard line, moderate faction game to cheat the world and they only budge when their survival is in jeopardy.

    November 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  9. Rick McDaniel

    The deal is not the issue. The issue is.......will it change what Iran does? I say no.......it will not change anything they are doing, at all, so the deal is nothing but a sham.

    November 30, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  10. G14

    The only way to guarantee that Iran doesn't build Nukes is in 3 forms,
    1. Take away it's ability to build one. (Intellectual ability, raw materials, will to build bomb for its defense, etc)
    2. Get Iran to sign its own death or life warrant. In this case, let Iran prove its program is for peaceful purpose by signing a deal that will limit its program and guarantee it wouldn't build a bomb with regulators in place to verify on a regular basis that they comply with the terms of agreement and if there arise slight evidence to prove that Iran is close to having a bomb, Invasion. Preemptive strikes will be vital if a nation does what it says it is not doing. No country has good intension unless they prove it through deeds not just words.
    3. Shut Iran down literally.
    Of these three options, 2 is preferred. Iranian leader in the past had made comments about its objective and their deed funds terrorists and support tyrants. Maybe because it is military strategy who knows.
    The world in other to avoid a 3rd world war should not permit the pilling up of more dangerous weapons (viruses, nukes, chems) thinking peace is in inaction. 3rd world war is not avoidable but the outcome can be favorable. A conflict begins when one nation's policy overreach and creates misunderstanding and then escalation and then war. If you can't understand someone, avoid em. if you can't avoid em, reach an understanding and there is only two ways to achieve understanding, violence or a deal. One is peaceful and the other is deadly but at the end there will be an understanding.

    November 30, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  11. ChicagoRich

    I am in favor of a deal, however, no deal struck should in any way rely on either our trust in them or their trust in us. The agreements must be verified that both they and we are in compliance. Generally this is how I feel about any international agreement because a nations leaders may change and may well hold specific goals or interests above those of honoring any agreement struck with another nation.

    December 2, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  12. Burt Ward

    Hey Fareed Bin Laden, people like you are the reason Iran will detonate a nuke in Iran or the west some day. You are a dangerous person, just as much as Bin Laden himself. Maybe we need to declare war on YOU to save this nation.

    December 8, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  13. Thinker

    Do you guys understand what Sharia Law is? Irans government is Sharia Law, which is the teachings of Islam taken literally. Go read the Hadiths, Sunnah's, and Qur'an and tell me someone who takes those words literally need to have possession of a nuclear weapon. I challenge you to go spend some time in the middle east. If you haven't then most likely your outlook on this subject isnt complete. Republican or Democrat, anyone who backs this deal is either neglegent or a traitor. Unless of course Itan allowed utter and complete inspection of all of theor Nuclear facilities (which is extremely unlikely of them to do).

    April 17, 2015 at 12:45 am | Reply
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