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. ProfMHSettelen

    It is seriously worth examining the wording of the responses by the President of Israel & that of his Prime Minister; the President far better reflects the differing views within Parliament (Knesset).

    November 24, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Reply
    • john mcinsane

      Penissssss 8========>

      November 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  2. Richard

    This is a bad deal for the US. I can promise you based on a history Iranian broken promises and worthless rhetoric that the US will free up billions to Iran for nothing. Iran will laugh at us in the near future for being so naive. Obama wants this in some vain attempt to resurrect his miserably failing domestic (and now international) policy. This agreement if accepted will be a highlight of the President's biography in the last failing days of his administration. Netanyahu is correct. Bad deal.

    November 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Reply
    • john mcinsane

      Penisssss 8========> .-. Oh yeh

      November 24, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Reply
      • banasy©

        Troll is boring troll.

        November 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • Max

      Obama is a failure , from head to toe,, he left no credibility for the US from Syria to Egypt especially after he backed off from his red line on Syria,, US has lost its influence in Middle East , even afghan president does not give a damn to what Obama ask.

      November 24, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Reply
      • john mcinsane

        Did someone say 'head'??


        November 25, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  3. Unconvinced

    What brought Iran to the "bargaining table"? Sanctions?? I doubt it.
    I think that what really brought them to the table was/is the threat of an imminent and severe military strike that they fear would cripple their efforts to get a bomb. I think that something has convinced them that, if they didn't achieve some sort of diplomacy very quickly, the many billions of dollars they've spent and the decades of efforts made would, or could, all be lost to such an attack. I think the Iranians are liars, their diplomacy is a ruse and the west has been suckered.

    November 24, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Reply
    • juan govea

      The American people would be strongly against any such attack upon Iran, which would almost certainly lead it to develop nuclear weapons. The American government understands this, but must talk tough about maybe having to launch a military attack to appease the right-wing Israeli government. The outcome of such an attack would be to create enormous hostility to the United States. You make peace with your enemies, not with your friends...

      November 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Reply
      • Nathomasme*

        Are you blind or stupid?! That hate is already there! They say every other week that they want to wipe the US and Israel off the face of the globe.

        November 24, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  4. PortOurTroops

    I guess this is the end of the Repub cheerleaders saying Obama doesn't know how to compromise as in the ACA. It takes two to compromise.

    November 24, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      They are already decrying this agreement, and at 161 amendments by the GOP included in the ACA, the people complaining about compromise are being a tad bit hypocritical.

      November 24, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  5. Anonymouse

    This deal is awful. Iran gives up nothing and gets billions if dollars

    November 24, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  6. juan govea

    It is time for the Peace Train (Cat Stevens) to leave the station, and for the nations of this earth to study war no more. The American people (as vs. those who control our foreign policy) are with few exceptions, peace-loving. Humans are going to have to learn to cooperate and show consideration for others, or there won't be any humans left following a couple of nuclear winters. We are tired of war, and the slaughter of innocents. Israel talks very tough, but only because it knows our government has been bought and paid for by Israeli sympathizers (Jewish and non-Jewish). Every time Netanyahu speaks out against this agreement, he brings more attention to the Israel Lobby and its strangehold on us. The comments that this deal with Iran has generated are extremely negative to the current Israeli view of it, and rightfully so, in my opinion. Go, Pres. Obama, and stand up to Israel and its sympathizers. The American people will stand with you and against Israel at least 10 to 1.

    November 24, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  7. chrissy

    Spot on @ Dave W! Especially the post about Detroit, which is totally out of control these days!

    November 24, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  8. juan govea

    Well-written and courageous column, Fareed! Keep speaking truth to power.

    November 24, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Reply
  9. RST

    Fareed's argument is basically empty. Yes, the number of centrifuges has increased to 19000, but despite this, Iran decided to seek a diplomatic compromise because the heavy sanctions were having a devastating effect on the economy. This impact was probably seen by the mullahs as eventually threatening their hold on power. Let's recall that the level of sanctions in 2013 is much higher than that existing in 2003. Clearly, while the sanctions in 2003 were insufficient to cause the Iranian regime to pause, the sanctions in 2013 forced Iran to reconsider (or more likely "fake" reconsideration). The sanctions are being alleviated just when they were starting to bite. In addition, the present deal does not stipulate an end to uranium enrichment...in contradiction with the UN's earlier directives. The agreement should have included dismantling all centrifuges and all facilities that could be used to manufacture highly-enriched fissile material. In my view, Iran correctly identified President Obama's administration as weak and as providing a unique opportunity to advance its cause. This agreement is a victory for Iran and will probably turn into a Mini-Munich. The West will probably pay dearly for its mistake.

    November 24, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Reply
    • skarphace

      "Iran decided to seek a diplomatic compromise because the heavy sanctions were having a devastating effect on the economy." (Your words)

      If this claim is true (and I believe it is), then my question would be: what should we try to gain from these sanctions? Should we not be attempting to bring Iran to the negotiating table? Is this not what just happened? What do you expect, for Iran to give it all up without any captiluation on the West's part? If so, that is a pipe dream. These types of negotiations always occur over a series of small steps with each side giving a bit at a time. Neither side will ever give everything up on the off chance that they will get all they want in return.

      November 25, 2013 at 12:25 am | Reply
      • Freethinker

        study 12ver Islam. your arguments are logical IF, and i repeat IF, Iran were acting in the self interests of its PEOPLE. but as 12vers the mullhas believe it is thier DUTY to bathe the world in blood to instigate the return of their messiah(our anti-christ). Oh yeah, ad their messiah comes from a bottomless well, kinda like the bottomless pit huh?

        the problem is ur placing western sensibilities on people who hate the west.

        November 25, 2013 at 1:30 am |
      • duhduh

        People who criticize this are mostly tea party knuckle-heads or the usual we-love-wars republicans. What the hell were they expecting. No diplomacy and just war. This is exactly why these nations build up their nuclear capability. Least we can do is to have the guts to give diplomacy anohter chance. With the oil money they havem, Iranians will probably never give up anytime soon. There are other nations who for their own national interest buy oil from Iran. And those nations have no interest in US interests. That is logical too right – except for the knuckleheads and gop.

        So let us see what comes out of this. If it fails the next republican president can do what they do best – go to war.

        November 25, 2013 at 8:11 am |
      • Freethinker


        Lets just hope that goodwill doesnt come with a nuclear suckerpunch for israel.

        November 25, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • ann

      Agree. This is just like North Korea. How short is our national leader's memories? It's shameful.

      November 25, 2013 at 3:47 am | Reply
    • Stephen

      So your strategy is what? To starve them out to the point of desperation and panic, leaving them with no other option but to hit the nuke button? Can none of you armchair hawks see that diplomacy at the point of a gun – or nuke – has never worked? Now go eat some more cheetos and watch some MMA reruns.

      November 25, 2013 at 7:21 am | Reply
  10. gc

    if you are considering with this agreement consider these 2 things. 1: when Kerry negotiated with Vietnam re: POW's alive and dead he made secret side agreements that were not know until years later. 2: we make an agreement with Iran and no conditions concerning the release of Americans imprisoned in Iran? you kidding, right.
    Obama, Kerry and Clinton are proven liars. they are self absorbed characterless liars that care only for themselves.

    November 24, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Reply
    • ann

      It's disgusting. Totally. American prisoners ignored, Iranian people ignored, and lies told to the American people.

      No wonder Obama's poll numbers are abysmal.

      November 25, 2013 at 3:49 am | Reply
      • Brian

        Um, the actual negotiations were between Iran and the OTHER COUNTRIES mentioned in the article above. This wasn't strictly about US interests alone. What lies are being told within the context of this agreement? What about this agreement puts the Iranian people in jeopardy? Methinks you talk out your azz.

        November 25, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • israelomoredia

      yet u scream "no more war"! u americans are all confused!

      November 25, 2013 at 8:07 am | Reply
  11. asif

    Absolutely right article one more thing everyone must understand that you never find any terrorist attacks connection with Iran.Persian people by and large very educated decent and human nature and cultured the world has never seen any Iranian ever involved in bomb blast or any suicide attack.well done Obama for courageous steps .time has come that these two great Nations become friend with each other and restored full diplomatic relations

    November 24, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Reply
    • Robin Jones

      Iran finances others to carry out acts of terrorism on Iran's behalf. The fact that Iranians are smart enough not to blow themselves up, instead hiring others to do it, does not make the current regime in that country trustworthy. The regime has a long history of deception, delay and failing to honor commitments. They have much to prove to the rest of the world before they will be trusted.

      November 25, 2013 at 12:33 am | Reply
      • ann


        November 25, 2013 at 3:49 am |
    • Freethinker

      You cant have peace with a nation that has already stated its supreme goal as destroying the little Satan(israel) and then destroy the big satan(U.S.A). They tell their own people their deceiving us, biding time to destroy us.

      As For good ole fahreed here, he has as much credibility as peirs morgan or al sharpton. Why are Americans so willing to forfeit their original thought and critical thinking abilities just 2 spew word for word what they hear from so,e clown on TV. Thats our nations real problem, nobody's thinking for themselves, they believe whatever they are told therefore they are susceptible to being used by the media like suicide bombers are used by terrorists.

      November 25, 2013 at 12:56 am | Reply
      • ann

        It's mind boggling. I hope that Americans remember this tragic day at the next election. Sign me a former Democrat.

        November 25, 2013 at 3:50 am |
  12. Michael

    Makes sense, if you trust the Iranians to abide by their agreements. How'd that work out with North Korea during the Clinton admin?

    November 25, 2013 at 12:03 am | Reply
  13. Tom

    A. This buys Iran time to complete their clandestine work.
    B. Zakaria probably believes Neville Chamberlain to be the greatest diplomat of all time.
    C. When Obama stated the goal of "peace in our time" in his 2nd inaugural he clearly did not know from where that quote originates.
    D. When the Saudis buy nuclear arms from Pakistan and the Israelis request plutonium then the appeasers might realize this deal was a failure.

    November 25, 2013 at 12:09 am | Reply
    • Daniel

      A. This deal also improves transparency.

      B. An interesting comparison, but you haven't given us any reason to think that it's appropriate.

      C. Chamberlain said "peace for our time," while Obama said "peace in our time."

      D. I'm honestly not sure what you're implying, but that may be because I don't know much about Saudi and Pakistani politics. How will this deal have the effects you're talking about?

      November 25, 2013 at 1:19 am | Reply
  14. Ken Hathaway

    Looks like FZ can now join the dumb and dumber club of BO and Kerry. He can now kiss the ring of Iran like BO and the clown. Sorry FZ but you are as big a joke as they are.

    November 25, 2013 at 12:17 am | Reply
    • Freethinker

      dont forget FZ "advises" the president.
      Although in all reality, its probablly the other way around so the the public is properly duped.

      November 25, 2013 at 1:02 am | Reply
      • ann

        Pass me the barf bag.... I can't hold it down any longer!

        November 25, 2013 at 3:52 am |
  15. Ari

    Yes any diplomatic solution is automatically superior to a military action for the long term. See "Munich accord 1938".

    November 25, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
  16. skarphace

    It is not in Israel's best interest to see more and more Middle Eastern countries sign non-proliferation treaties? Why? Because if Israel is left as the only country that has nuclear weapon capabilities, then their will be heavy pressure on Israel to sign such a treaty as well, and Israel does not want to give up its nuclear weapons.

    November 25, 2013 at 12:28 am | Reply
    • skarphace

      Er .. the first sentence was meant as a statement, not a question.

      November 25, 2013 at 12:29 am | Reply
      • Freethinker

        Still doesnt help the logic of the statement

        November 25, 2013 at 1:20 am |
    • American_Skeptic

      Another brilliant post.

      1) Israel is dealing with Arabs that want their land and to wipe them off the map. So to answer question... Um, no.

      2) This is not just about our relationship with Israel, this is about the safety of the entire world and future bargaining chips. We screwed the pooch hard with North Korea in 2005, now we just made a bigger mistake.

      3. This was a poorly thought out strategic move where the risks far outweigh any benefit. We just got played... HARD.

      November 25, 2013 at 2:22 am | Reply
  17. Kamakiri

    Very insightful article, Mr. Zakaria! Who did you rip it off of?

    November 25, 2013 at 12:39 am | Reply
  18. chrissy

    Agreed @ Ann! Ive yet to understand why people feel they have to coddle Israel. Netanyahusanidiot is nothing more than a warmonger trying to manipulate the US to start wars on their behalf! And i understand even less why the US feels they need to send our tax dollars to finance Israels military? That money would be better served within our borders fixing the problems in our own country. And there are many!

    November 25, 2013 at 12:57 am | Reply
    • Freethinker

      I BEG OF YOU. THINK FOR YOURSELF!!! Dont forfeit your critical thinking capabilities, dont hand over your beliefs and opinions to others to fabricate for you. I know where fed the anti-zionist BS hard in lectures and by our professors, but you have to begin to look at them critically and only use THEIR OPINOINS in the process of thoughtfully creating our OWN ORIGINAL opinions and beliefs.

      November 25, 2013 at 1:11 am | Reply
    • American_Skeptic

      Really miss uneducated idiot.

      Netanyahu has an IQ of 180 and is a former MIT (US) graduate, what is yours? 80?

      This is not about Israel you dolt. This is about the safety of the free world. This is about being able to negotiate in the future. Our brilliant 2005 North Korea deal is why we can't negotiate with them today.

      As far as funding the Israeli military, considering much of our defensive training comes from Israel, and considering all the "Black Ops" Israel does for us; I would say it's money well spent.

      You're a moron so I won't continue wasting brain energy on a dolt like you.

      November 25, 2013 at 2:16 am | Reply
      • ann

        Fareed is an idiot. This deal is awful, and will go down as one of the most embarrassing moments in American foreign policy history.

        November 25, 2013 at 3:56 am |
  19. Ryan Gulati

    i dont understand how guys like Zakaria are still around. He is a plagerizer this means your career should be over..Not with CNN you are hailed a hero

    November 25, 2013 at 12:59 am | Reply
  20. Grampa

    As usual, the conservatives scoff and ridicule with no viable alternative plan except maybe start another war. Major diplomatic breakthroughs happen in steps. This was the first step in addressing Iran's nuclear capabilities and ambitions, and it alone achieved more in that regard than any recent republican administration.

    November 25, 2013 at 1:04 am | Reply
    • American_Skeptic

      What a stupid thing to say.

      Typical Liberal logic.

      1) That fact that you believe Iran can be negotiated with already indicates you're a moron. What world do you live in? Certainly not Earth.

      2) The Obama administration knows NOTHING about foreign policy, first Benghazi and now this. Go buy a clue because you need one badly. The arrogance in making such a deal with Iran despite such strong advisement against it from Israel only further demonstrates the vanity and arrogance of Barack Obama. HE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT HE'S DOING AND THE WORLD KNOWS IT.

      3) The GOP route would have been to stand by Israel. Who knows the region better than Israel? Who has the most intelligence on Iran? Israel. The GOP doesn't start wars knucklehead, it finishes them where we have interests.

      Obama is a weak and foolish leader and this time it's going to cost us.

      And to your EXTREMELY stupid remark about this being more remarkable than any recent republican administration's accomplishment: You're right, no Republican has ever put the world in the hands of terrorists or threatened the existence of Israel.


      November 25, 2013 at 2:05 am | Reply
      • ann

        Agree with everything you wrote. What a sad day.

        November 25, 2013 at 3:57 am |
  21. B L

    First, don't refer to Iranian people as if they are one and the same as the mulls and clergies who are running that country. Iranian people are the only non Arab people in the middle east who are educated, gracious, and cultured people. The sanctions only makes life more miserable for people who are not part of any political group. Inflation is at its highest, and people whom every aspect of their life is dictated to them are suffering. I don't believe anyone is crazy about the international agreement signed with Iranian government, but a small step toward resolving this problem is better than no step. The other option is going to war, and we saw what happened as a result of going to war in recent memory. And Iraq and Afghanistan didnt have the capability that Iran has. Nothing was gained but deth and destruction on both sides, and the suffering will go on for generations to come. Just because we're more powerful and stronger, doesn't mean we should resolve everything either with war or sanction. Civilized nations are using diplomacy, and more power to them. In six months, hopefully, there will be more talks and mabe a lasting resolution .

    November 25, 2013 at 1:27 am | Reply
    • American_Skeptic

      This isn't about the Iranian people. The Iranian people HAVE NEVER been the problem. This is about the Iranian government. Most Americans I know feel bad for the Iranian people in that they have to live under such a regime. Iranians themselves ARE NOT the problem.

      November 25, 2013 at 2:08 am | Reply
  22. Alex

    What a silly way to see this situation!

    Iran was playing this game for last ten years. Cooking nuclear weapons and threatening its neighbours and from time to time 'throwing a bone' to the world – proposing to negotiate. These propositions were nothing but an attempt to buy more time for cooking.
    Now they are on the verge of getting their nukes and need one last delay to get things done. I'm sorry that major powers bought this trick.

    November 25, 2013 at 1:32 am | Reply
    • American_Skeptic


      November 25, 2013 at 1:52 am | Reply
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