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. Max

    Hi Zakaria I hope you didn't plagiarize this one, Hossein Obama foreign policy is messed up , from supporting Moslem brotherhood to dealing with regimes sponsoring terrorism.
    Bararak Hossein Obama=Gorbachev for the US

    November 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • john mcinsane

      Rand paul for prez!! #plagiarize

      November 24, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  2. Icj

    This deal with Iran is a bad one. Iran has some hiden agendas, about this unclear weapon and it will be a surprise to the world.

    November 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • john mcinsane


      November 24, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  3. Hughcity

    Fareed, i agree that this is better than nothing and we'll see what six months bring. But you have zero skepticism that the Iranians will not look to banging the anti American and anti Israel drums again when forgoing sanctions takes too long to provide an improved standard of living domestically. They need employment growth now in avoid that.

    November 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Reply
    • IDNeon

      Nothing is better than incompetence.

      November 24, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  4. My pet

    Fareed – Obama's lapdog....

    November 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
    • john mcinsane

      Pro israel much, jewy jewbergstein?

      November 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • burn em all


      November 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The limited cooperation is better than no cooperation. I hope that we make this agreement with Iran and go as far as we can see to go this way. When we her there, we can see to go further.

    November 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • peshwar

      Iis Kerry Churchill or Chamberlain? Time will tell, but this deal seems to favor Iran!

      November 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Reply
      • giggig

        A bad deal for the west,for UAE and Ryath. The treshold to launch is still highhowever,see NK . No delivery functioning and/or ready.
        RonPaul once said,we are going to have to learn to live with nuclear Iran. It looks,he was absolutely realistic! The next war will be nuclear exchange, that's for sure after this deal here.

        November 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      You truly don't understand the Arab culture and way of life ie what I call the art of "horse trading".

      November 24, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  6. yallmthtfkrs canskmydik

    Ted cruz for prez!! Jesus 2016! Allahu akhbar!!

    November 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • ralph

      You, sir, are an idiot.

      November 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  7. john mcinsane

    In the words of my uncle, allez cuisine! Bombbombbomb, bombbomb iran!!

    November 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  8. Twolf

    Fools! Don't you see that ALL IRAN WANTS IS TO BE MADE TO "LOOK GOOD" In the World's eyes...... and that is Just what this deal accomplished! If they can look good in the rest of the World's eyes, then........... Yes, they can carry on undetected while the sheep of this world glean over this supposedly historical agreement, and they are able to carry out their main objective which is to annihilate Israel, and the U. S.!!! Fools!!!

    November 24, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply
    • john mcinsane

      Please abort down syndrome kids and lazy blacks

      November 24, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Reply
      • Daniel

        May God forgive you creature of the the Lord . Killing in whatever form is bad.
        Meanwhile the agreement ; is a sincere work of man , we can only pray that it works .
        Like it or not further aggressive rhetoric or actions towards Israel that makes her citizens suffer anxiety , fear or physical harm will lead to further problems for the whole world .
        Sounds unreasonable ? well not everything obeys laws of science , diplomacy or logic !
        May God help those who are sincere to achieve the best results for their actions in this matter. Shalom to you all.

        November 24, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
      • ralph

        Not sure where you live, but I am sure that there is a garbage can involved. Cimb back into it, put the cover over your head, and rock yourself to sleep.

        November 24, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • tom

      I am tired of MY TAX DOLLARS being used to support Israel. If you and the Likud supporters want war with Iran, let Israel do it.

      Stop demanding that Americans fight your battles for you. We are tired of being stooges.

      November 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Reply
      • sally


        November 24, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
      • Truth

        Like the USA was there in 48 when Israel took on about 7 nations?

        November 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
      • crazyvermont

        Before whining about your tax dollars and Israel, perhaps, consider the technology they've provided in helping the US have some of the advanced weaponry we possess. My son recently left US intel and while he certainly never has divulged anything of secrecy, he has mentioned several advances in technology Israel has shared which has improved our capabilities. His short answer is Israel will kick butt whether we support or not and we stand to lose more than they by withdrawing support.

        November 24, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  9. DemsDestroyUSA

    It is more than Obvious that Obama's real agenda has been to damage the United States beyond repair. His first milestone was to destroy the country from within by ruining the healthcare system with Obamacare. Now he is empowering our dangerous enemies. I blame each and every american that voted for Obama for the destruction. The democrats will never take responsibility for their actions and will continue to destroy this country. The destructive power of the democrats can be seen in cities such as Detroit and Stockton. They will not rest until the entire country is in ruins.

    November 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Reply
    • tom

      Did you bother to read the article? Bush talked tough like you want, and the problem got worse.

      What do you want, war with the whole world? Go sign up fool.

      November 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • Dave Kramer

      Huh? I don't get it. Please explain.

      November 24, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Reply
    • DaveW

      Just across the bridge from Detroit is the city of Windsor, Canada. Although the auto industry collapse has affected Windsor economically, it is not a war zone like Detroit. Well kept homes keep happy people warm in prosperous, clean, safe neighborhoods.

      What is the difference between Windsor and Detroit? Why is one city so different from the other? Think carefully and remain open to the possibility that we Americans could also be enjoying a reasonably prosperous society if it weren't for a Republican agenda hell-bent on sacrificing any notion of middle class in favor of their own extremely selfish agenda.

      November 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Reply
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Wow. What a simplistic, elementary perspective. Have you ever seriously contemplated any complex issues using reason and measured assessment? Or did you get your GED from Fox News University Online? Stop foaming at the mouth like your heroes Glen and Rush, and go back to reading your cereal box. This is a blog for adults.

      November 24, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  10. Steven R

    You present the nuclear threat as more of the same. This clearly is an underestimation of the gravity of the situation.
    You are suggesting that this deal is better than no deal. Yes, this is a good deal for Iran. It displays the lack of knowledge and competence, and the weakness and naiveté of the current US Administration vis-a-vis the Middle East.
    "But it is a step forward." Yes, it is likely to be a step forward for Iran to develop its nuclear capability and for the President and Secretary of State to claim an achievement.

    November 24, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Reply
    • Paul32

      I am amused by people like Steven R who may have read an occasional article on the subject but claims to know more about it than people who have studied the matter for years and know the ins and outs of the situation. The entire world, as represented by the European Union, China and Russia sees this as a step forward. If there were no deal, the alternative would have been continued friction and maybe military action. Is this what we need? Haven't we had enough with 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and look where that took us. For that matter, look where Vietnam took us, where Korea took us, where Cuba took us. Generations of conflict, no resolution and trillions wasted.

      November 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Reply
      • lwm

        This is a horrible deal. How many years did the manhattan project take? How long did russia take to build the bomb? Iran has been working for more than 10 years,. Maybe they agreed to the deal and ushered in the deal so they could finish the last few components over the next six months. Remember N. Korea? What we should have already done is demanded an end to the program and when they refuse take the leash off Isreal and let them handle the work they want to handle. Now we have put Isreal in a corner, the only halfway sane nation in the mid east asnd we are getting closer to a conflict we will not be able to control

        November 24, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
      • bobcat2u

        Take the leash off Israel you say ? Are you kidding me ? On the contrary, Israel and more specifically, Netanyahu needs to be muzzled and put on a short leash. This mad dog has been running loose for a long time. And if there is anyone on a leash at this time, it's our illustrious warmongering lawmakers that are controlled by the Jewish lobby.
        The rest of us level headed people would very much prefer diplomacy.

        November 24, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
  11. Serge Crespy

    A price reduction for crude oil?

    November 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  12. Lily

    Fareed makes some good points, but overall his calculations and optimism don't fly. Iran is currently funding groups that obstruct any kind of "democracy" attempts; Iran has not changed their plans to destroy Israel or their highly flammable rhetoric against Israel; Iran despises America, and perhaps most important of all, Iran will continue, with or without our knowledge, to beef up their capability to build nuclear bombs! Hello, it's time we faced the fact that unless they agree to DISBAND their nuclear program, eventually, they will achieve their goal. So this "deal" is but a salve to soothe the Western brow!

    November 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • NM

      That useless waste of space 'W' scared the Iranian leadership with his 'Axis of Evil' nonsense, then invaded Iraq. NK had nukes, and Iran made the simple calculation that nukes lowers the likelihood of being invaded, and now was a perfect time because then 'W' royally screwed up Iraq o the point that the American public were not interested in another war in the Middle East (which is why Bashar is getting away with murder). Iran fumbles around locally with terrorist groups, but that is mostly aimed at Israel, and they would drop the support in a heartbeat to get the sanctions lifted. I believe they have calculated that they are 6-12 months away from having the bomb and can put everything on hold and see if having a normal human being in the White House can let them ease off a bit. But expect the centrifuges to power up again if some clown like Ted Cruz gets anywhere near the White House. The Tea Party have no idea how their craziness impacts the real world.

      November 24, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  13. Jum

    How come Israel can have nukes but Iran can't?

    November 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • MCR

      Because Iran has declared is intention to wipe Israel off the map.

      November 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Reply
    • MR.Lars

      Do you really have to ask? If Israel didn't have nukes they would have been overrun by now! Israel is not the one threatening to turn their enemies into a wasteland in the name of a false profit. Iran will use the Nukes. The next goal will be a missle that can deliver a nuke to US soil.

      November 24, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Reply
    • NM

      Because they are our friends. Stop asking complicated questions and get back to watching TV.

      November 24, 2013 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  14. Keevan D. Morgan

    yep, a great deal, a great deal.

    in fact, it's THE best kind of deal possible–which is the deal negotiated to take the place of the deal they have been breaking.

    really, charlie brown, THIS time i'll let you kick the football!

    November 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  15. Karl

    After reading a few posts I have come to the conclusion that the human race is such an embarrassment. Everyone claims to understand the outcome of all of this and everyone is running scared. Enjoy the holidays and relax some. we will do ourselves in at some point in time. We are all terminal.

    November 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  16. Chris Asking Question

    Who will you blame after the first mushroom cloud appears?

    November 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
    • NM

      Any rational leadership will know that nuclear weapons are a weapon of last resort – if Iran nuked anybody else they would be fried instantaneously. The only real concern is if a nuke gets out of the control of national leadership – and this is why we worry about Pakistan. Forget Iran, the oil people I know regard them as good businessmen who are looking out for themselves and their country, not crazies like the Tea Party or the Neocons.

      November 24, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  17. Peace in our time

    Its not possible for the U.S. to fight wars all of the time. I know its a disappointment to the military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned us but reality is reality. Halliburton and its dozens of subsidiaries and compatriots will just have to find another war to fight somewhere later and leave Iran alone. Maybe there is some wisdom in fashioning peaceful agreements to see if they can succeed because war creates problems we didn't have before.

    November 24, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  18. ali

    Fareed is on payroll to be pro Iran and anti anything Iran does not like. Iran buy media in other countries much like us.

    November 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Reply
    • nyjets011269

      Yeah, that must be it. Ignoramus.

      November 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Reply
    • DaveW

      Fareed is one of the most insightful and thoughtful journalists I have ever read.

      November 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  19. dm

    Iran has to change , it knows that it has a young population that don't have any jobs and if they dont start producing Jobs for them then its only a matter of time before trouble starts on the streets and regime change is demanded then the Mullas will feel the hang mans noose around their necks..

    November 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Reply
    • IDNeon

      The same Iran with 1.5 million fanatical suicide soldiers more loyal than the SS doesnt have to change anything you dumkopf.

      November 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  20. John

    Well, at least it's a start and something had to be done. I'm all for the security of Israel, but I'm more for the security of the United States. Does Israel have the resource to take on Iran? I sort of doubt it. Even if this is limited progress, at least we're talking to them and that's the first positive sign I've seen since 1979.

    November 24, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Reply
    • IDNeon

      In WW2 we had no effort or intentions to talk to Germany....would you say that was counter productive?

      Of course you would you id.iot

      November 24, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Reply
  21. Nexus6

    Consider this: Iran is the world's largest supporter of terrorist organizations and groups. Strapped for cash, this support has taken a substantial hit during the past few years. What do you think will happen when $$$ starts flowing in? Do you think that Iran will change overnight to a peace-loving country, and abolish its ties with terrorist groups? And do you think that Iran will stop its influence to Islamatize the rest of it's neighboring countries?
    All this is, is a ploy to play along a global poker game where the stakes are high, the chips affect global economy (and the US economy in particular), and everyone is bluffing...

    November 24, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  22. shon williams

    Excellent report! Neo-cons will ignore that Bush's Iran and Iraq policies made things worse. They are white men and women that hate the ground Obama walks on. Their a dying breed of war mongers that think the U.S. is Rome or that Israel is gods people which means blacks, hispanics and asians are evil.

    November 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  23. ted

    So this article proves yet again that George W Bush was an idiot who thought, with his Texasn bs bluster, he could bully Iran to do what HE wanted. Obviously that was wrong.

    The thing is this. Maybe Iran does have peaceful reasons for nuclear development. Maybe they are telling the truth. All we know are the continued lies of the Bush administration and the GOP about Iran. We don't know the facts, but we do know that Bush and Cheney had issues with facts.

    Netahyahoo is just as bad as BushCheney. We have had all these peace accords with the PLO and Israel agrees and before the ink is dry, they are back at attacking the Palestinians. We need to extricate ourselves from the hypocrisy of Netanyahoo and more fully engage the Iranians.

    November 24, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Reply
    • Jerry L

      Appears the idiot is the commenter. You Ted, are an ignorant gluteal cleft orifice.

      November 24, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Reply
    • DaveW

      Yes. We need to stop blindly supporting Israel while they perpetrate horrible atrocities against Palestinians every day. We need to be as tough on Israel as we are on Iran, but our crazed Bible-belt politicians are persuaded to support "God's chosen people" no matter what they do.

      November 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Reply
      • Jerry L

        The perpetrators of the atrocities are the Palestinians. If you're too ignorant to know the facts, your commentary is wasted.

        November 24, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  24. nuclear mike

    This is nothing but Obama "spin"...as the Presidnet is desparate for anything to cling to that could be called a success...just wait for the Israeli "hammer" to fall on Iran!!!

    November 24, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  25. Frank Gilbert

    This, coming from an Islamist sympathizer. Makes perfect sense. That's what happens when you view things through blood stained glasses.

    November 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • DaveW

      Who is an Islamist sympathizer? Fareed Zakaria? Lol, I don't think so. You need to read more of his insightful and very thought-provoking articles.

      And while you're doing that, perhaps you can also tell us where your sympathies lie? Are you a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian sympathizer? Just itching to nuke any infidel nation that doesn't have "In God we Trust" stamped into their coinage? Koombayahh brother, we can tell you're a Christian by the love...blah, blah blah.

      November 24, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  26. dmf

    This is a historical interim deal between Iran and P5 countries + Germany , for control of Iran 's Nuclear program . This deal would delay and may help save U. S. from another War in Middle East . A huge set back for the right wing extremist War mongers in U. S. Israel and other countries .

    November 24, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Reply
    • IDNeon

      Youre a complete fool

      November 24, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  27. IDNeon

    Obama is such a tool. I hope Israel attacks Iran and assinates Obama and shows the world that Obama was really just an iranian candidate all along

    November 24, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Reply
    • DaveW

      Wow. Maybe we should require background checks before allowing people to own a Bible.

      November 24, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  28. chrissy

    Only an i d i o t wishes war on anyone or death on another!! And G O D dont like ugly btw!

    November 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Reply
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