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. Ramin

    I like and respect Fareed, whom I have watched for years.
    But this one.... I hope is not for pay write up! Can't believe such an intelligent man is also as naeive as Obama. I expected him to see Iran through and through and expose the serious weeknesses in this deal.

    November 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  2. Anthony

    Sad day, 6 months from now Iran will be back to enrichment, sanctions will be gone and WWIII will be right around the corner. The largest state sponsor of terrorism now will have nuclear weapons with which to threaten its neighbors and take land. All incentive for peace is gone.

    November 25, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  3. chrissy

    Fortune teller are you @ Anthony? Six months from now in all liklyhood, Israel will have already attacked Iran! And then yea, WWIII will be upon us!

    November 25, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  4. jrm03063

    If the US were to walk from this deal – whatever its limitations – it would be very hard to get other nations to support any sort of action – including sanctions. This deal puts the ball in Iran's court – they have to show that they're worth negotiating with – if they don't – we wind up with a stronger hand and they crippling sanctions get increased.

    November 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  5. chrissy

    Exactly @ Jim03063, nice to see there are still people out there willing to think outside the box. Some only see the black and white of everything. Im also inclined to think had it been any other prez willing to negotiate those people would all be in agreement that this is a positive thing!

    November 25, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  6. joe

    In 1994 the US agreed to provide N. Korea with 2 light water reactors in exchange for them agreeing to not develop nuclear weapons. It was hailed as a great deal.

    November 25, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  7. banasy©

    It stymies me that people want absolutes all the time. Nothing is absolutely black or white.

    November 25, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  8. chrissy

    Lmao @ banasy, hence 50 shades of gray huh? Lol

    November 25, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  9. saywhat

    Y.ou said it@chrissy. This do nothing Congress has been this country's undoing.
    Their traitorous streak is manifest in their threats to block the Iran deal

    November 25, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      So Obama won't run again on his I wasn't aware that Congress has the power to block something that other countries already signed...

      November 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  10. saywhat

    Those still beating the drums of war in concert with the wailings of of House Of Saud and Netanyahu are hardly those who have America's interests at heart.

    November 25, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  11. sxs0214

    Nothing makes me more furious than hearing US right-wing pro-Israel republicans come out and say, in opposition to this nuclear deal, that We gave them the right to enrich, we gave them 7 billion, we allowed them to do this or that as if they have the sole ownership of that right, or if that is the US money they are giving away. As if they have a better solution (except to attack.) After 10 years of grueling negotiations, a modest deal is reached, war is postponed, no one is killed, no monetary cost for the US except Mr. Kerry's travel expenses, Israel is safer than ever, Iranian people are happy, there is no nuke and will not be one ever and all intelligent person realizes this except these right wing nuts. Now I am not a fan of neither regime of Iran or Israel and for that matter I regret voting for Obama, and I basically do not trust any government any where in the world, however the fact of the matter is that a day that a new war is not started is a good day for humanity.

    November 25, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Reply
    • Far

      Very well said.

      November 26, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • Anton

      "there is no nuke and will not be one ever"
      I'm concerned that you really believe this. If only we could appease our way to peace.

      November 30, 2013 at 3:30 am | Reply
    • Richard

      This is a bad deal. Iran gets to keep too much and they can initiate re-enrichment at any time. We give them $5 – 10 billion of frozen assets and we get nothing but a promise they won't enrich beyond agreement. Iran has never kept their word and won't on this. We have them on the ropes with sanctions...tighten the screws even more.

      November 30, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
      • Mark

        Sanctions cannot force Iran to give up its nuclear program. Sanctions can only inflict enough economic pain so that Iran chooses to give up their nuclear program. If we give them harsher sanctions no matter what they do, they have no motive to NOT build a nuke. It's basic carrots and sticks diplomacy, except it doesn't work if we use nothing but sticks. We already tried that, and it clearly doesn't work. We refused to negotiate in 2003 and the number of centrifuges in Iran increased from 164 to 19,000. Just ignoring them will not magically make the problem go away.

        January 21, 2014 at 10:46 am |
  12. jon linde

    When this deal becomes North Korea v2.0, it will be the final nail in the coffin for Obamas naiive forigen policy.

    Im looking forward to seeing Obama trivialize rejected inspectors and obstruction as nations like Saudi, egypt and turkey ramp up their own "peacefull" nuclear programmes. And ofcourse alienating allies is not going to have any fallout. Im certain that Jerusalem will be very eager to compromize vs the palestinians and saudi wont nudge Closer to Putin.

    Well done. Well done indeed.

    November 25, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  13. herupyuda

    Reblogged this on Journal and Journey and commented:
    Reflection of recent temporary deals on Iran's nuclear program. The conclusion is: better have it than nothing!

    November 25, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  14. chrissy

    Looking forward to countries in the ME ramping up their nuclear activities??? Wow! That sounds pretty vile actually. Is that so you can feel like youre right?

    November 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  15. david g

    I actually think that President Obama actually believes each of his foreign policy moves is in the best interest of the United States (not sure about Israel). The reality is this administration in no uncertain terms will not wage another war in the middle east – full stop. To that end, this deal is merely an effort to postpone the almost inevitable conflict looming in the distance. Even if the US is out Saudi Arabia and Egypt and many other countries in the region (of course Israel) are in. They understand the implications of a nuclear Iran. The people with their fingers on the button are (unlike the former Soviet Union) irrational by Western standards – driven by passion and belief. That's dangerous. No one in any Arab country in the middle east lies awake at night worrying about Israel nuking their country. It just isn't reality. Israel has it's tiny (the size of New Jersey) Jewish state sitting on an Arab football field. It wants to avoid conflict with Iran – an Iran that doesn't promise to drive all the Israeli "rabid dogs" into the sea. That's what this is about. And do you know how I know that? Because that's want the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said numerous times. Are we a nation of four year olds – am I taking crazy pills here? This Iranian regime is hell bent on destroying the most reliable ally we have in the region.

    November 26, 2013 at 5:47 am | Reply
    • RCCA

      I'm sure Obama thought that supporting the Muslim Brotherhood was in the best interests of the US and Egypt as well. Too bad he is so misguided.

      November 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Reply
    • JOBULL

      No war is historically inevitable........wars take place because humans deem it so....people who posit wars as inevitable...inevitably wnat to see them take place. You're not a death lover are you david g? Your confirmation bias might convince folks otherwise, but your're not really are you?

      December 3, 2013 at 9:16 am | Reply
  16. Terry

    I am so sick and tired of hypocritical news bias toward Israel. Why isn't is there no call for economic sanctions, an arms embargo and aid cutoff against Israel to require its' surrendering its' nukes for destruction and destroying its' nuclear arms infrastructure?!?!?! Mr. Zakaria is just as dishonest as all other news people on this. He is a coward.

    November 26, 2013 at 8:30 am | Reply
    • Ken

      If Israel did not have nukes, that entire region would be on fire...deterrent is on Israel's side.

      November 27, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • JOBULL

      Israel doesn't have nukes Terry....remember?

      December 3, 2013 at 9:17 am | Reply
  17. Rufus Reeta

    Mr Zakaria your argument is convincing, well presented. To those who say Isreal should surrender its nukes! THE ANSWER IS A BIG NO! WHY? Because the mindset of Iranians cannot and should not be compared to that of Israelis. I remember in the recent past the Israeli generals togeather with Ehud Barak held a different point of view from that of the Prime Minister, if memory is serving me well it was on the possibility of a military strike on Iran. The Generals call for cool heads to prevail and their reasoning against a military strike prevailed. Imagine if the Ayatollah called for military action who would oppose him in Iran. Then there is the belief system, it is such that those who are religiously brainwashed can start a dangerous nuclear conflict thinking that the 12th caliphate(who they believe will come after Christ) or something like that will come down to rescue them.
    Remember some Countries and individuals&groups routinely threaten to wipe Isreal off the Map! a genuine reason why Isreal should keep its nukes but not suicidal religious madmen.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:29 am | Reply
    • JOBULL

      The Iranian military would opppose him Rufus. The Iranians were notified years ago that if they ever employed nuclear weapons......life as they know it would cease to exist. That message was communicated in no uncertain terms through the US Joint Staff to the Iranian MoD. I can assure you the Iranian general staff understands their strategic strike inferiority vis a vis the US and it's allies, and would do what it needed to do to prevent their country from being turned into a parking lot. The Iranians are never going to Nuke anybody.There is no way they could prevent or survive decisive retaliation in kind.

      December 3, 2013 at 9:36 am | Reply
  18. chrissy

    Because @ Terry, people like David think that Israel is the strongest alli we have. Nevermind the fact that Netanyahusanidiot has repeatedly tried to manipulate the US into one war after another!!

    November 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  19. saywhat

    This 'Iran developing a nuclear bomb in 'weeks' in 'months' has been the chant of those who you see doing the same today in Israel, up on the Hill , here and elsewhere since 1979. .
    Israel's security apparatus has time and again contradicted this propaganda and today it supports a deal with Iran. A war wary Israeli public wants to give peace a chance.
    Its only the far right likudnic assembly of Netanyahu & co dreaming of a 'Greater Israel' with US as a tool that would oppose any move towards peace. Their agenda to remove obstacles like Syria, Turkey and Iran using US military stands jeopardized.
    And@chrissy. That 'ally' of ours has been a liability now for decades.

    November 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  20. saywhat

    "Israeli security team heading to US to 'shape' final Iran deal" News. How pathetic can our policy makers up on the Hill get? God.
    "AIPAC has serious concerns on Iran deal" news. Well folks AIPAC is a spying wing and enforcer for the regime in Tel Aviv. What else can we expect?

    November 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Reply
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