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 (433 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    Well a country with established aggressive mind set and history of militarism can have a cache of nuclear arms, delivery systems, nuke armed subs simply put WMDS but a country with no known military aggression towards another country has to be put in chains? Balderdash @John geheran.

    November 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  2. saywhat

    being blocked now.

    November 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  3. Brenda

    What Israel is opposed to is anything that might impact the billions they receive a year in defense funding from the US. Peace with Iran would curtail a lot of that and so it is in their best interest to maintain a cold war.

    November 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • Pasha

      Spot on Brenda

      November 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  4. lsjogren

    Whether a good deal or not, it's not like the US is in a strong bargaining position since everyone knows that internal US politics and public opinion preclude any possibility of a military strike on Iran by the US. (An Israeli strike is a different matter.)

    November 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Reply
    • Ryan

      Corrupt US politicians (most of em) will make sure that if Israel decides to make the US attack Iran, that the US will do so on command. If Israel decides to attack themselves, they'll make sure the US is protecting it, even though we are negotiating with them.

      November 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Reply
    • FHTEX

      I seriously doubt Israel will launch any strike against Iran. First of all, it is not clear whether Israel could even pull it off. Even it did, it would hardly slow down Iran's nuclear program which is widely dispersed and, in many case, deeply underground. Third, any Israeli strike would undoubtedly produce disastrous consequences for the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz. The West overthrew the Iraqi regime (leading to greater Iranian influence over that nation), tried to overthrow the Iranian one with covert assistance to the opposition (which failed), and tried to overthrow Assad (which failed). The recent success of Assad finally convinced the Western powers to throw in the towel and engage in rapprochement with Iran. With Saudi oil exports soon to decline and Russia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and their allies controlling over 50% of the world's oil and gas reserves, the West will sorely need Iran in the coming decades.

      November 24, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  5. palichampion

    Israel is furious that the Oded Yinon's plan of using the Unites States to destroy yet another country that righteously challenges Israel's domination and illegal expansion is now on at least temporary hold. To understand all chaos in the region, this policy paper MUST be read:


    Also read this plan complimentary plan engineered by Washington's Zionist-neocons who write US foreign policy for Israel which AIPAC-controlled Congress signs into law:


    November 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  6. palichampion

    Congress just spent $6 Trillion (with a T) or 1/3 of entire US national debt, on 1 of at least 7 wars Israel has planned for the US (wars in in this Israeli policy paper)


    We can no longer afford supporting Israel's overall plan


    See what the Conflict is really about:


    November 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Reply
    • Gil

      No war ever cost 6 Trillion. Both Iraq and Afghanistan war together cost less than 1.5 trillion. You should use your brain before posting inaccurate facts.

      November 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Reply
      • palichampion

        People like Gil really should research topics before making uninformed comments. Iraq has indeed cost the US $6 Trillion:


        Support of Israel's crimes also gets the US attacked:


        November 24, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  7. JC

    Farheed always has this utopian view of the world. His ideology comes from a vacuum that is completely unattainable. The sanctions may have resulted in Iran building more centrifuges, but kept them from attaining a weapons delivery system, control modules to keep the uranium dormant in the system, and basically made those 19,000 centrifuges storage facilities. Would it have been better to lift sanctions and allow one of those original 194 to be the basis for a bomb?

    November 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • Vic

      JC, this is where an education (i.e., reading for comprehension) would have been helpful to you. Nowhere did Fareed suggest lifting the sanctions back in the days of the inept Bush presidency. What he said is that the US refused to talk to them after they approached us to find agreement. And sorry if you disagree, but diplomacy is always the best first approach. refusing to engage you enemy in diplomacy is one way to assure that you'll always have an enemy; maybe not one that you'll always have the upper hand on, but an enemy nonetheless.

      BTW, there are plenty of worthwhile avenues for online education. Maybe you should consider pulling yourself away from the chatter on CNN and get yourself an education!

      November 24, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  8. Ted

    Is that the same Zakaria who called a deal with Kim Jung "a good deal", predicted that Assad would fall in 6 months, and called Mursi a "legit leader"? Why CNN letting this "expert" publish on its front page is beyond logic.

    November 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • gstranyord

      haha..yeah, Zakaria is a numbnut.

      November 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  9. chrissy

    Spot on @ Tom and applause at your 10:55 post!!

    November 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  10. bobcat2u

    Given the influence Iran has in the area, it is in our best interest, and that of the entire region, to have them as an ally.
    The possibility of the peace that could ensue from this agreement is well worth the wait and see ati tude. If they are serious, it will be evident in short order. Netanyahu needs to be kept on a short leash for the time being to give this a chance to work.

    November 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Reply
    • Steve Short

      You are ignorant.

      November 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Reply
    • bobcat2u

      Would you care to expand on your most gracious and eloquent response ? I take it your opinion differs from mine. How much more shocked could I be by that revelation ?

      November 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  11. therealzeitgeist

    The math of enrichment is something worth mentioning. U235 assay from U ore is ~.7% assay. Iranians get to keep tons of it at 5% enrichment. In other words, they've enriched the U in this case seven times over. Enrich eight times over from there, and you're looking at 70% enrichment. In other words, the Iranians get to put nearly half their centrifuge efforts for making a bomb in a bank account of sorts for six months, buying time and cash in exchange.

    If it took several years through a growing cascade of centrifuges to reach this 5% level, the Iranians can accomplish the rest the work on a full cascade in only a few months. The Iranians will make for their bomb before this President is gone, probably before the issue of an Iranian bomb can matter in American Presidential electioneering. So I wager Iran will have a bomb – barring physical intercession from a third power – by middle of 2015, definitely before the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary that fall/winter.

    November 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Reply
    • R

      Well, I'm no fan of Israel or Iran. But I agree. I think the deal buys them time.... yet again.

      That said. I think the hawks don't really care if Iran develops a weapon. It gives them a reason to strike Iran using the US or Israel to do it. Imho, Iran's only chance of avoiding significant damage to their country and their people is to give up on their program. Cosying up to the 5+1 will be seen as just a tactic if they don't fully dismantle their program.

      November 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  12. BLE7481

    That Iran's nuclear program increased its centrifuge capacity from 164 (2003) to 19,000 (2013) despite sanctions, utterly fails to prove that diminishing sanctions will cause Iran to slow its program. How fast would that increase have come with no sanctions?

    The only thing we have provably accomplished is that we've made it easier for Iran to fund further growth, should they choose to do so.

    November 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  13. Steve Short

    Has anyone of the commentators read the qu'ran? It calls for "good muslims" to kill anyone that is not muslim.

    If they conquer your country you must pay money to live in peace among them. They send children to blow themselves up to agitate for war.

    The position paper you refer to is obviously written by someone who had read and understands the muslims text of instruction from allah. The instructions are explicit. It says to kill whomever does not worship allah.

    Read history. Have you read the atrocities of the last time the muslims dominated the world?

    Americans have become so ignorant very few know anything about the historical context of these countries and how they came to be.

    Do you understand that they have been trying to annilhate non muslims for 1200 years!

    November 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Reply
    • mzar

      what aboaut this argument: have u ever read the book of Joshua?!try it, unbelievable!

      November 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
    • bobcat2u

      And are familiar with the history of the Crusades ( you know, those religious campaigns against the Muslims ) that were conducted from the 11th – 13th century under the sanction of the Latin Catholic church ?
      So trying to claim one religion is worse than another is just grasping at straws since Christianity has sanctioned a great number of wars in our lifetime and throughout history.

      November 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • just checking

      Was hitler a muslim?

      November 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • JShapiro

      Hey Steve, I guess you missed reading up on the history of the Ottoman Empire. Remember that Muslim empire that lasted more than 600 years and was more tolerant of ethnic and religious minorities than virtually any country in Europe? Check it out, you might learn something.

      November 24, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  14. Jenny

    Netanyahu wants enemy because of his domestic problems, Saudi 's want sanction because that keeps oil prices high.

    November 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  15. saywhat

    What we have achieved is what we couldn't in the past 3 decades.
    It was imperative for world peace and US interests that we get rational and go the way of statesmanship not the craziness of opening another disastrous front in the M.East.
    A nation in the volatile .East with history of military aggression and far right war mongering leadership is allowed to have a pile of WMDS and a nation with no known military aggression towards another country in the recent history should be put in chain. A recipe for disaster.
    resolving Iran 'issue' with direct talks and involvement of major powers was the way to go. A courageous step in the interest of world peace and its own interests by the US.
    "Likudnic-House of Saud axis of terror" as Pepe Escobar so aptly names this threat to peace, can go on lamenting.

    November 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • allenwoll

      sw - Apply some magic for just a moment and let the regime in Iran be secular : Then and ONLY then what you makes good sense. . However Iran has a mad-dog theocratic regime of about the worst possible stripe ! !
      It is hard to imagine that the sensible Persians actually fell for Islam ! ! !

      November 24, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Michael

      You are totally without historical knowledge. Israel and war monger? Iran never started a war? Read a little, get educated.

      November 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  16. saywhat

    That is "A nation in the M.East" folks. pardon the miss.

    November 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  17. desert voice

    After this deal was successful, let me ask: Why not five-plus two on Syria? The interim deal with Iran should encourage the world powers in the direction of solving the Syria debacle which is not less urgent! Why can't these same five plus one world leaders seat on the same table in Geneva, and spectacularly solve the Syria crisis? Just instead of five plus one call it five plus two, Syria being the "one", and the "two" being Iran! I would like some comments on this idea.

    November 24, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  18. gstranyord

    Did you plagiarize this Zakaria? You have been caught doing that quite a few times so it always must be asked on anything that you write.

    November 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Nobody has ever said that before. How original.

      November 24, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  19. Rick

    What the bias Shia MR Z is getting wrong about this deal ....
    Here is why this deal is a failure, and a farce....Kerry said Iran will have "zero" 20 percent enriched uranium in six months under the deal announced Sunday. This statement is misleading, because the 180 kilo's of 20% is only going to be "diluted down" to a much larger pile of 5%. Iran is not giving up anything, and they could dilute it with anything, even something that is easily separated back out in no time. I mean even when he was saying it, you can tell he danced around the topic all crafty like. Iran has given up nothing today, and Iran also announced today the building of 2 more heavy water reactors, Iran has made a fool of the international community. Israel and ALL of Iran's Sunni neighbors have no choice now but to act unilaterally or together in their own defense.

    November 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Reply
    • just checking

      Act independently? Iran is shaking in its boots knowing that a bunch of untrained thugs (hezbollah) DEFEATED the mighty IDFin 2006. So much posturing.......you talk about war like some silly little video game. Go back to sitting on your la-z-boy and throw back a few buds.

      November 24, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  20. Max

    Fareed you better keep copying other people articles,,,,

    November 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  21. longtooth

    Zakaria is wrong. Obama is wrong. Kerry is wrong. England, France, Germany, Russia and China are wrong. Why don't all these poor, deluded souls listen to Limbaugh, Rubio, and the other enlightened wise men who are destined to lead us?

    November 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Max

      You will see why they are wrong when Iran gets the bomb.
      Obama desperately needs propaganda(after failure in Obamacare) that's why he made the deal
      British government is counting seconds to send oil companies there
      Russia and China they have huge trade with Iran and they feel any threat from Iran nuclear bomb

      November 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Well played, longtooth.

      November 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  22. Max

    Obama needed some propaganda after chain of failures from domestic issues to foreign policies , the outcome of this agreement can be two things 1- first , Iran will get relief from sanctions and continue to work on nuclear bomb secretly and when they have it they will kick the US out of middle easy then Mr Zakaria will write another stupid article " that how bad this agreement was"" after all he has to write some nonesence to get paid
    2-Iran regime will have a better relationship with with the US at the price of human right in Iran ,, another example that the only thing west care for is $$$$$$ human right is just a stick for them , when they don't get $$$$$ there is problem with human right,,, Obama is and will be a huge failure in the US history , ,, hey Obama borrow some backbone from Putin

    November 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  23. Mary

    PaliChampion absolutely right. People should learn more about how Zionist keep US imprisoned.

    November 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Reply
    • yoavnir

      Pray tell us. what power does Israel have over the USG? AIPAC? They represent less than half the Jews in the US, and couldn't swing any state, including New York if they wanted to. So where does this mythical power come from?

      November 24, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  24. Dan

    "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". U got it backwards fareed. The country that does this is Iran. Nobody in Israel (or Sauidi) would Care a second about Iran if not for their stated goals to "wipe them off the map". Typical of the left to forget the results of history when it comes to appeasing evil dictators and somehow flip the script that those who want to live in peace are somehow wrong.

    November 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Reply
    • just checking

      Dan- just wondering.....Is saudi Arabia's grievance with Iran related to wiping something off a map? Try to think a little more independently and not just spew out fox news gibberish. Think about the effects that the wars we have fought in that region will have on OUR OWN FUTURE....even if you don't care about the lives that have been lost or permanently changed in the middle east. Are our kids safer and happier because we invaded Iraq?

      Do a little search on the nationality of the 9/11 hijackers. Were any of them Iranian? Were 17 / 21 Saudi citizens? You have been brainwashed.....

      November 24, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  25. jerry p bronikowski

    fareed hates america

    November 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  26. Paul

    It's not a good deal, in fact the best deal would have been for Iran to stop all nuclear research. The question I have is, if it's for peaceful usage then what are the peaceful objectives that have been set. Is it producing electricity, NO. Is it producing medical isotopes, NO. What are the peaceful product they will produce, I don't know, do you?

    November 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Reply
    • just checking

      Paul- maybe to you the best deal would've been that Iranians just leave their country and turn the keys to everything over to Israel.....Oh...and to send someone to your house to detail your cars for you on a weekly basis.

      November 24, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  27. Bruce

    This is much better than putting carriers right next to them and egging on the next war. They chose what appears to be more moderate leadership, we can do something other than thumb our noses at them. Let's at least try to work with the youth of that country that want nothing to do with the Old Guard. We can't afford another war, we are BROKE. No kidding guys, our national debt is unsolvable, and we will not be able to defend even ourselves if we go bankrupt.

    November 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  28. Josh

    Isn't this the same clown that tried to tell us how great Saudi Arabia is yesterday. This deal Sucks!!!! Don't ever trust Iran with anything!

    November 24, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  29. mikeinsjc

    Guys, the first name of the guy writing this article is, hello, "Fareed". What more do you need to know about which direction this article is going to lean?

    November 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Reply
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