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. KEVIN

    But it is so simple: Iran = bad guy and Israel = good guy. Why is that so hard to understand?

    November 25, 2013 at 1:33 am | Reply
  2. American_Skeptic

    Obama is an inexperienced fool and the entire world knows it. Iran just played us like a fiddle. Bibi Netanyahu had to formally denounce such an incompetent, careless, ignorant, and dangerous foreign policy blunder.

    Worse yet, Israel didn't have much say in the matter which begs one to ask, "Did we really think Iran so stupid as to believe we were distancing ourselves from Israel by a phony display of diplomacy to the world?"

    John Kerry is an idiot and our lack of leadership just made the world a whole lot more dangerous. It's not as though Iran wasn't already enriching Uranium. These actions by our leadership reveal our administrations intelligence, not BS IQ points and Harvard degrees. Thank you Mr. President for making the world a whole lot more volatile and dangerous.

    It's time to seriously look at impeaching Obama, the man is incompetent.

    Israel has been dealing with Iran far before it became a state. Israel knows all too well the deception and cunning of Iran. Ahmadinejad was replaced with Rouhani because Ahmadinejad did not posses a thimble full of diplomacy. The Ayatollah needed someone who could act kind and smile while driving a knife in our backs, someone who could easily manipulate Obama. Well it accomplished what it set out to do.

    The wheels have now been set in motion in ways we cannot anticipate, removing financial sanctions means nothing to Iran. It's the operational sanctions they care about. This isn't just about nukes folks, this is about terrorism and the safety of the entire world in an unstable region.

    Hopefully we will be able to correct this act of stupidity and it isn't too late.

    November 25, 2013 at 1:37 am | Reply
    • ditdahdit

      It must be awful to live in a world of fools where only you possess any real wisdom. You have my sympathy.

      November 25, 2013 at 2:54 am | Reply
  3. Akpabsy Ray

    Guys! Calm down!! Reason, did years of sanction stop iran from enrichment? This is an interim six months deal only if iran keeps to its end. Every other Stiff sanctions are in place.

    November 25, 2013 at 1:52 am | Reply
    • American_Skeptic

      This is a very naïve way to look at it. Israel and the world are concerned with the lifting of operational sanctions. This is exactly what Iran needed to turn the tables on the US in future negotiations. It doesn't take a genius to see this.

      November 25, 2013 at 2:11 am | Reply
  4. Yeah...Right

    Thank you Obama for such a reassuring deal. The fact that it is backed by you, a notoriously tough leader whose word mean much, whose red lines are enforced (Syria), who keeps his course in the face of any adversity, who backs his allies all the way (Egypt, Irak), who has time and time again demonstrated that he understand that negotiations only work if you have a credible threat... Yeah... Right.
    If this deal was backed by a real leader then maybe...

    November 25, 2013 at 2:30 am | Reply
    • ann

      Wait! You forgot: "You can keep your doctor."

      Too bad: "You can keep your centrifuges" won't turn out to be a lie.

      November 25, 2013 at 4:00 am | Reply
  5. ditdahdit

    Peace is not in them. Israel wants us to invade yet another Middle Eastern country on their behalf, while Republicans want to maintain high oil prices for their billionaire patrons. The 'honorable men' of Congress fall over each other scrambling for AIPAC media money. With so many selfish self-interested parties working against any peaceful solution I'm surprised we manage to achieve anything other than constant war.

    November 25, 2013 at 2:49 am | Reply
  6. A Marzban

    Natanyahu is playing high stakes Poker with US chips (My Tax Money), and that makes US lose face, youn glives, and Rep. And a superpower can not afford to look RIDICULOUS. Iran is a BooBoo that Mr Nat in Yahoo has been using to bury the [THINGS] in Palestine and give it less importance than THE MULLAH'S BOMOB....A new C B De Mille Jr. production. Can;t we all live in peace. I think Israel must remember Who their oldest Ally in the Region, what country's Kings HELPED to Re Construct Somones Temple. In what country the OLDEST Jewish settlemn and Dannlel's Burial is, Answer ` All In Iran (PERSIA),

    November 25, 2013 at 2:57 am | Reply
  7. bii65

    And what I think about the U.S., Iran and Israel
    the U.S. dominates the world by conflicts and threats.
    the U.S. wants the oil of Muslim countries.
    the U.S. also wants that money from oil will remain in the United States.
    If Iran took the 100 billion that is invested in its bonds U.S., the U.S. economy will collapse. and some banks would collapse.
    Israel is a small dog that barks by U.S. plans.
    and unfortunate conclusion – the U.S. and Israel do not care from killing and suffering of Muslims

    November 25, 2013 at 4:16 am | Reply
    • Jake321

      Muslims seem to do a really really good job of killing each other. Muslims have killed way more Muslims in the past two years in just Syria than Israel has in the past 65 years. You the experts!

      November 25, 2013 at 7:01 am | Reply
  8. me

    Fareed, I honestly don't know who decided you were the world's leading expert on geo-politics, but it is clearly undeserved. Your 'omniscient' tone is a poor mask for your misguided liberal opinions. Do the world a service, and please stop writing.

    November 25, 2013 at 6:36 am | Reply
  9. Dave

    This is just a good first step. The fact that the Iranian people are now aware of why things are tough and if they ease a little puts more pressure on the Mullahs to make it work. The military option is still on the table and after all, Israel has nukes and has never signed the Nuke Non-Prof treaty. Iran has signed it.

    November 25, 2013 at 7:22 am | Reply
  10. magnum12

    The Iranians are worse liars than the Nazis or communists ever were. That says it all.

    November 25, 2013 at 7:48 am | Reply
  11. Elkart Genone

    What are the GOP war mongering losers going to do now? There's nobody left to bomb. Except Palin. It would be weapons finally used wisely.

    November 25, 2013 at 8:01 am | Reply
  12. chris

    Iran prepared itself long time ago for air strike on its military and nuclear installations moving its capabilities under the ground in secret sites that world powers dont know. I`m afraid that enrichment of the uranium and other things will continue in those places allowing inspectors visit well known places instead. The result will be similar to the North Korea. They`ll one day announce they have nuclear weapon and will be too late. Now its up to inteligence services to discover hideouts

    November 25, 2013 at 8:09 am | Reply
  13. Brian

    In 2003, had the Bush Administration come to an agreement with Iran, he would have also had Bin Laden handed to him. Bin Laden was an enemy to Iran as he was deemed a threat. But The Decider out-witted himself...again. Let's not forget why Iran hates the US to begin with. Has to do with trust.

    November 25, 2013 at 8:21 am | Reply
  14. Htos1

    Get back to us after there's a smoking hole in the m.e.

    November 25, 2013 at 8:21 am | Reply
  15. Ellen

    I too agree that this agreement is just a starting point, but an important one. I doubt there's any government on earth that I truly trust and that is why these kinds of baby steps are necessary. As for Israel; I think there's a lot more to it's so-called bluster than is given credit. Israel continues to be a master at covert operations. I see no reason to count them out when it comes to their threats against Iran. They tend to get the job done, but quietly; something other countries could learn from.

    November 25, 2013 at 8:42 am | Reply
  16. letssay

    iIf Iran were a rogue state like Iraq or Libia they would have attacked their archenemies before even the sanctioned would have begun.
    IAgain, if Iran were Israel and would have been confonted by war-threats and such, then they would have attempted a pre-emptive attack like Israel has done on a third country.
    Obviously iran is not more Rogue than Israel who has defied more security council resolutions, hiding military nuke programs, and haveing attacked it's neighbors.

    Irans defence towards it's enemies is DETERENCE, which includes diplomacy and avoiding millitary confrontations unlike iIsrael.
    Even if Iran possessed Nukes they would have used it for Deterence and not confrontation, still to the dislike of Israel.
    IThis proves that Iran's Regime no matter how hard lined, would still be a lesser threat to it's enemies as vise-verca.

    November 25, 2013 at 8:52 am | Reply
    • Triple A

      "This proves that Iran's Regime no matter how hard lined, would still be a lesser threat to it's enemies as vise-verca"
      Iran would by far be the agressor.
      If Iran were to lay all their weapons down there would still be an Iran
      If Israel were to lay all their weapons down there would no longer be an Israel.

      November 25, 2013 at 9:54 am | Reply
      • Ted hernandez

        I agree. If Iran were such a non belligerent state then how come most middle eastern countries are extremely alert to the idea of an Iranian nuc strike? Yes Isreal has nuc capabilities, but in my estimation they would probably use a nuc in self defense. Remember, this is not ww2. And I won't get into the reasons for or against the use of the nucs back then. But I for one do not trust the Iranian govt...way too radical and unstable...and in my opinion, I would take anything they say with a grain of salt.

        November 25, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • Peter Beck

        Is that the best you can do? That tired phrase wore out years ago. Try thinking for yourself instead of parroting Israel-firster talking points.

        November 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • Simon Cohen

      Here is the paramount distinction between Israel and Iran: Iran leaders declared multiple times that Israel should be wiped off the map. I return Israel declared that any self defense option, including preemptive strike against nuclear facilities, is on the table.

      November 25, 2013 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • spocksbrain

      It's pretty laughable when somebody says things like "Israel has attacked its neighbors." Take a look at a map, and then do yourself and study some history and see who has attacked who over the last 60+ years. I am one who hopes this agreement will work for everyone, including Israel and Iran. Meanwhile, I'll remain skeptical - especially when I read posts like yours.

      November 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  17. jdk47

    Yeah, let's think about what might have happened if there had been no "Munich Deal" between Neville Chamberlain and Germany as well...there might have been an immediate, short-term military conflict between Germany and the rest of the World to prevent the Anschluss and the incursion into the Sudetenland...then...no WWII.

    Zakaria, you're an idiot. How many times can this guy be 180 degrees wrong and remain on CNN?

    November 25, 2013 at 9:03 am | Reply
    • Mantismech

      Sounds like if you were the Prime Minister of Britain you would have attacked Germany?

      November 25, 2013 at 9:23 am | Reply
      • danielatlanta

        No, he is probably one of those chicken hawks who would have had someone else or someone else's son attack Germany. These types never sully their hands with the heavy lifting. They always stay home and make money off the conflict, a la Dick Cheney.

        November 25, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • marginoerra

      oooohhh, jdk...hurling slurs like "idiot" is SO impressive!! Even more impressive: how about providing links to all the instannces where Mr. Zakaria has been "wrong"?

      November 25, 2013 at 9:45 am | Reply
      • Guzman Guzman-Suva

        What he did wrong? First of all, idolizing that famous black American idiot, Obama. What else can I say.

        November 25, 2013 at 10:46 am |
      • jdk47

        It's not a slur. It's a factual, accurate description of the author.

        November 25, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • les legato

        Try everything he has ever writen. The Pres of Iran has ALREADY stated that this deal does NOT stop them from enrichment.

        When Iran starts smuggling dirty nukes out to the West I hope one goes up Zakaria's fat *ss and the other down Kerry's throat.

        November 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • fortunate

      Calling author of the article 'idiot' is wrong, not only because that is not a way to conduct civilized discussion, but also because he is definitely very talented, well educated, and well informed person. However, I would never believe that man named Fareed Zakaria can be objective when writing about anything pertaining to muslim world. However he tries, somewhere deep inside there will be that small boy keeping Ramadan fast with his father, joyfully celebrating Novruz, and calling Allah's help in time of trouble (just like Barak Hussein Obama).

      November 25, 2013 at 10:01 am | Reply
      • guest

        Unfortunately, your namesake fortunate is not found in the quality of your knowledge base. Making ignorant remarks just highlights both your bigotry and bias... Fareed Zakaria is Indian – non-religious with more background in HIndi/.Buddhist. Just like your ignorant attempt to paint the US President as a Muslim by the intentional fixation on his middle name. Comments are here to bring intelligent discussion to a topic...not bias and bigotry...because you don't have the wherewithal to defend your beliefs intelligently.

        November 25, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • superbole

        Racism dressed in velvet – is still racism.

        November 25, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Dan

      Britain would have lost badly in 1938 had they confronted Germany over the Sudetenland and they knew it. Chamberlain bought the RAF another year to prepare for the inevitable, although it's not clear if this was actually British strategy or just luck.

      November 25, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • superbole

      JDK has no idea – no perspective on history. Pre-WWII diplomacy and this situation has no comparison – no commonality to make even a loose analogy. So why bring it up? I believe the true idiot has spoken.

      November 25, 2013 at 11:27 am | Reply
    • marsilius

      The Munich Crisis was indeed about the Nazi German military annexation of the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia. But this wasn't the Anschluss. The Anschluss had been the earlier Nazi German military annexation of the entirety of Austria.

      November 25, 2013 at 11:33 am | Reply
    • Simon Cohen

      Calling names proves inability to express and lower IQ. It makes any argument not stronger but weaker. Do you understand that? I doubt.

      November 25, 2013 at 11:36 am | Reply
    • SwamiAntiZak

      And he contradicts himself. If Iran is so "oil rich" making a nuclear program a small expense, why does it care about getting a paltry $7 billion in sanctions lifted? They have a new president that is speaking softly and building a big stick. Reagan brought the Russians to the table by staying tough. Obama and his lacky, Kerry need to read their history books and not worry so much about their "legacies".

      November 25, 2013 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • Sam

      I have nothing to say regarding Zakaria's comments, as I disagree with them often. You, on the other hand, make up a hypothetical historical situation, which you are even uncertain about: that is why you use the word might, and then all together dismiss WWII as a result. Funny is you even move historical events to fit them in your reasoning. The Munich Agreement happened after the Anschluss (not before) and prior to Sudetenland occupation, which was about to happen anyway; they just made it official in that agreement which is why it is called "Munich Betrayal" by Czechoslovakians.

      November 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  18. jdk47

    Furthermore...to agree to this deal in a vacuum, without any thought to how Saudi Arabia and Israel might respond, is pure idiocy. The Saudis are now going to buy nukes from Pakistan and the Israelis are MORE likely to initiate a military confrontation. Obama just lit the fuse on the powder keg. Now it's just a matter of time before it blows. How stupid can Obama, Zakaria, and the rest of the liberals be?

    November 25, 2013 at 9:07 am | Reply
    • Mantismech

      Are we doing this for the best interest of Israel & Saudi Arabia or are we doing this for us? Are you saying the policies of Israel & Saudi Arabia run parallel with USA?

      November 25, 2013 at 9:27 am | Reply
    • CoryTE

      And leaping into two wars on disinformation is so much righter? We only suspected you were just another un-educated bigot until you started typing and left no doubt.

      November 25, 2013 at 10:43 am | Reply
      • Bill the Cat

        You do realize that the Wikileaks letters show evidence of WMD in Iraq, right?

        November 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • srsh

      Certainly not as stupid as you are. That would be, it seems to me, an impossible task.

      November 25, 2013 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • Simon Cohen

      jdk47: Calling names proves inability to express and lower IQ. Combining that with being wrong in the first place and apparent hatred of the President, it makes any of your arguments not stronger but weaker. Do you understand that? I doubt.

      November 25, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply
      • Bill the Cat

        In ancient Greece, insults were actually a sign of high intellect.

        November 25, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
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