November 18th, 2013
10:19 AM ET

Tehran not only Iran deal obstacle

By Fareed Zakaria

Saudi Arabia is not going to accept any deal on Iran's nuclear program, no matter what is in it. Saudi objections to the Islamic Republic of Iran are existential. The Saudis regard Tehran as a heretical, Shiite, Persian enemy that must be opposed. Its antipathy predates Iran's nuclear program and will persist whatever the resolution of it.

And then the Republicans in the U.S., some of whom have serious objections and others who see this as an easy avenue to outflank President Obama on the right, placing him in the familiar spot of a liberal Democrat who is soft on America's foes.

Many of us have assumed that the greatest obstacle to a deal would come from Tehran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards remain deeply anti-American, and they may well oppose the concessions that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif would have to make to get a deal. But it’s now clear that greater obstacles might lie in the path of the negotiators on the other side. The minute any deal is announced, Saudi Arabia and Israel will denounce it, and many Republicans will join in. Given that Congress would have to pass laws to lift any of the major sanctions against Iran, this could prove to be an obstacle that cannot be overcome.

So Obama faces two major challenges. First he has to get a deal that the hard-liners in Tehran can live with. Then he has to get one that the hard-liners in Washington and Jerusalem and Riyadh can abide. If he can do both, maybe he will deserve his Nobel Peace Prize after all.

Watch the video for the full Take or read the TIME column

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Iran

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. asif

    Well done as usual very good observation and comments

    November 18, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • andres

      Well done? Fareed is nothing more than Obama's lap dog. As time has shown, there is little critical thinking on his part when it comes to Obama or Islam.

      November 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        This whole dispute is a political tug of war. Iran's nuclear programme became public in 2002. In the past Iran had miscalculated and believed that the West could carry a credible stick as well as have generous carrots on offer. When The UN Security Council adopted six resolutions since 2006 requiring Iran to stop enriching uranium, expansive sanctions began to bite and harm Iran's economy, but not to a point where its leaders had been compelled to negotiate a compromise with the P5+1.
        Iran continued to enrich uranium, saying it complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and insisted on enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. Nevertheless, Hassan Rouhani's election in June after running on a platform of achieving an easing of sanctions, had the supreme leader agreed to resumed talks with the six powers, which are risking a stab in the back by Israel and Saudi Arabia. The two notorious antagonists in the region are forging an unholy alliance to assuage their fear of a nuclear Iran.
        The recent détente between the Iran and the US does little to impress the hawks in the Congress, that clearly don't embrace full diplomatic and trading relations with Iran. Yet they should know that no Western government would support a military action against Iran – whether taken by Israel or the United States. The consequences of them acting alone would be grave.

        November 19, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • sylvia

      I agree. Republicans need to stop supporting the Saudis so much that they will drag our nation to war.

      November 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Ricky

      Fareed Zakaria is the best journalist on television today.

      November 18, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  2. Joseph McCarthy

    Quite right, Fareed. The animosity between the Shiites and the Sunnis reach back for more than 1,000 years and will probably never end. On the other hand, the West would like nothing better than to eliminate Islam except for the kind practiced by the Islam Aristocrats such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain. This is what keeps the Muslims from uniting against the West and leaving their individual countries open to foreign conquest!

    November 18, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  3. Thinker

    First, world must decide, who is right ? Shia or Sunni ? Then the solution.

    November 18, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Thinker23

      It's not up to the world to decide who of the two is right... Only Muslims can make this decision. The rest of the world should find the most effective way to prevent them from killing non-Muslims as well as each other.

      November 18, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  4. asif ali

    Whatever u say realy obama has failed his policy in middle east.

    November 18, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  5. John Geheran

    Mr. Zakaria is wide of the target. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran suffer from the same disease: jihadism. Maybe their tactics differ but their goal is the same: Islamic Supremacism. Until the West recognizes, acknowledges and acts on this piece of unvarnished truth, it will continue to be wide of the mark.

    November 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  6. Name*Iraj

    Any deal signed by Rohani has no value.
    He has no control over army, rev. Guards, basij militia, secret amd juditiary. Hence, no right to make deceision on nuclear weapon. He was selected to charm the west with smiles and buy time. Anthony Eden, prime minister of England signed peace treaty with Hitler and 2 Weeks later.occupied Poland. Is kery the present time Eden?

    November 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  7. tari

    Basically this negotiation is not solely about Muslims is about Jews benefit. Any negotiation with Iran whether good or bad, Israel oppose it because they need their creator (USA) to be on their side. No wonder there are so many enemies towards US in Middle East. Go figure,

    November 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • James

      Muslims and Jews?!
      Regime of Iran will distribute the bomb between extremist groups like Hezbolah..

      November 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  8. Tony

    what gets me is the U.S. wants Al Qeada to win in Syria when thats one of many whom we have been fighting against. You know our soldiers have killed by those we support! Maybe my words have fallen on deaf ears but at least I know whose on who's side.

    November 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jay

      Exactly, it is interesting to note that we haven't yet realized whose side we need to be. Saudis is at the center of 2 things, OIL and TERRORISM and is the biggest contributor on both those fronts. Its extreme WAHABI idealogy has spawned organizations like Al-Qaeda and now the new SALAFI movement that opposes anything and everything.

      Contrast that against Iran which politically has been against us for over 3 decades but idealogically (minus the clerics) seems more aligned to our causes and interests. After 911, there was cooperation between US and Iran to help identify the extremists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rhetoric aside, Iran has hardly done anything to affect the western world.

      In light of this background, it is baffling that we still can't figure out whose side we ought to be on.

      November 18, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
      • tari

        Iranians are the only people in Middle East that lighted candles after 911 tragedies and mourned with us. Saudis are the one that attacked the towers’ and killed thousands of innocent people and now we support them. I do not get it.

        November 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Nima

      How U.S. wants Al Qaeda to win in Syria?!!
      – Al Qaeda is a minor group in the opposition groups.
      – Hezbollah and Iran army are in Syria and surrounding Syria city and kill the innocent kids and woman.
      – Criminal Al-Assad how many years wanted to be president?
      – Iran regime gives Al-Assad 4 billion dollars to throw the chemical weapons to the Syrian.
      – Why you try to change the truths?

      November 18, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • rightospeak

        Why not , you are doing it Grandma !

        November 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  9. Jake321

    Since the Obama Red Lines of Syria, it is obvious that Obama doesn't have the will, political strength or guts for military action to stop the murdering Mullahs from going for nuclear weapons, any deal like the one he is pushing that leaves Iran with the capacity to go for nuclear weapons at will, is a very bad deal. Once Sanctions are eased and then eliminated as Obama proposes, they could not be put back in time to have any meaningful effect when the Mullahs desire to break the deal as North Korea did and go for nuclear weapons. They would do this knowing Obama would not attack them anymore than NK has been attacked. Obama is not stupid. He knows this and thus has decided that neclear deterrence is good enough. The difference this time is that there are other countries there who cannot and will not live with just deterrence. By ending the Sanctions too soon and allowing the Mullahs to keep a nuclear program that can go for weapons at will, as Obama is offering, means a war, just the opposite of what Obama says. But what else is new?

    November 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  10. Behrooz

    Any agreement with dictator regime of Iran must include the consideration of Iranian human right from government and releasing all the political prisons that arrested from 4 years ago demonstrations against faked elections.

    November 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  11. Plagiarism

    Did you write this one?

    November 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  12. raj Prakash

    Excellent Observation. But as usual we are conditioned to believe that the bad guys are in Tehran... so ALL the blame will be on Iran and NON for Netanyahu...

    November 18, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  13. Tim

    The regime of Iran is the same that occupied the US embassy for 444 days and exploded the US army building in the Beirut and killed over 200 US officers.
    They showed the clips in TV that the us army were killed from the road side mines in Afghanistan and Iraq and they announced it a victory!
    How this regime could be trusted?
    Did you trust Ghaddafi or Bin-laden?

    November 18, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • spring12

      look in the mirror

      November 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Far

      Iran should apologize because some people did something in Lebanon, what about killing 290+ people over Persian gulf by American navy? where those domestic flight passengers terrorists? Shame on you!

      November 21, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  14. James

    More Sanctions force the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards to give up, If they didn't, then their most hated government would be collapsed.

    November 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • tms5510

      no more sanctions force iran to withdraw from NPT

      November 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  15. Rick

    Oh look Mr Z and his typical Shia bias reporting, hiding it behind a heavily censored thread . So Mr Z admits France knew the details of the deal, and Israel did not ??? For Mr Z to even suggest that Israel had no clue of the details of this deal or any other deal, is either pure ignorance, of a cheap attempt to legitimize a baseless point. I wonder how much CNN is getting paid from Iran to allow this guys to spew Iranian Shia bias propaganda.

    November 18, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
    • Jay

      Ohhh, probably you prefer the brainwashing by tainted Saudi and Wahabi OIL money?

      November 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  16. Thomas

    With one serious threat of military strike the Atomic sites including the recent expanded underground tunnels in the Mubarake city, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards will shut down all.

    November 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  17. Nima

    Prior to any agreement ask Iran to have a referendum in Iran with UN monitoring:
    – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei regime- Yes or no?
    – 1) Atomic bomb or 2) democracy and freedom? 1 or 2

    November 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  18. Ray

    The US foreign policy is so soft that even the US assigned presidents of Iraq and Afganistan pay attention more to the Iran regime orders rather than the USA requests?!!

    November 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  19. Ray

    Zarif in islamic congress of iran: They wanted force us to stop the Uranium enriching. No problem! we can start it again after while!

    November 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  20. andres

    Fareed, you just like Obama and Kerry mistakenly assume a DEAL MUST be done. And that is the fundamental flaw, the deal as outlined by Kerry will leave all of the components for nuclear weapons in place, leave the stock pile of uranium enough for 4 to 5 weapons, leave the enrichment sites operational, and not allow inspection of 'secret' sites. Now what kind of deal is that? A truely bad one. Why do a deal at all? Who knows, but this administration is thin on the ground with diplomatic deals and it is Obama's last term, maybe a legacy drive, but this will leave a legacy that Carter would be proud of.

    November 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  21. John

    today terrorist attacks in Paris looks is the consequence of recent negotiation?!
    One regime is not happy at all!

    November 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
  22. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I just asked myself what I would do if I were Obama. However, after reading many comments in several threads of this blog, I do not think that USA citizens still have the stomach to win a war.
    I used to ask myself what Israel would do, or what Harry Truman would do. That was another time.

    November 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  23. sylvia

    The minute any deal is announced, Saudi Arabia and Israel will denounce it, and many Republicans will join in. Given that Congress would have to pass laws to lift any of the major sanctions against Iran, this could prove to be an obstacle that cannot be overcome.

    Republicans need to decide whether they are congress for the people or are they puppets for Saudi Arabia and Israel.

    November 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • andres

      Actually not. Most the sanctions are under presidential control. So no congress is not needed. But for Obama to do this deal would be terrible for the US and ignite a nuclear arms race in the middle east. Saudi Arabia already has contracted for missles from China and likely fully operational nuclear weapons from Pakistan. This 'deal' does nothing to stop Iran from its goal of nuclear weapons. They already have a tested design thanks to the North Koreans, enough fuel for 4 to 5 weapons and a well tested missle delivery system. Nope a very bad deal indeed.

      November 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
      • ✠RZ✠

        You'd almost think it's part of some bigger plan (?). Let's just hope all of our troops will be slowly siphoned back, and then some "credible" terrorist threat will vacate our embassies..., just before all manner of hell is unleashed. Didn't those Canadians already pull their embassy out of Iran like a year ago?

        November 19, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  24. JAL

    There is still a stronger initiative for inclusion and peace. Let it work.

    November 18, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  25. chrissy

    If Obama can get those two groups of hard liners to agree on any ONE thing he not only deserves a Medal of Honor, but combat pay as well!

    November 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  26. chrissy

    Lol @ rightospeak, was that directed at me???

    November 18, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  27. chrissy

    Not sure if that was a compliment or a dig?!? And i dont recall mentioning my age either. Hmmm

    November 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
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