The Big Iran Deal

The Iran deal is a good deal for the U.S., Europe and for Iran. It suggests a shake up of the Middle East and a plausible belief in the likelihood of a major deal in six months.

The deal with Iran happened on Iranian President Rouhani’s 99th day in office. Obviously taken with the idea of measuring a U.S. President by his first 100 days in office, Rouhani stated, “I’m happy that before my first 100 days finished we had this victory.” Rouhani’s comfort with that piece of American political jargon may be the best indicator yet of the likelihood that a final deal will be cut in six months. It indicates a certain affinity between Iran and the U.S. and the extent of the culture compatibilities of the two countries. It also is a clue to what Israel and the Gulf States along with Saudi Arabia fear the most – that the U.S. and Iran will end up as friends – even allies. (Not, by any means, an illogical fantasy.)

Of course Rouhani is not alone in taking the agreement with the P5+1 as a victory. Ayatollah Khamene’i praised the agreement. “This can be the basis for further intelligent actions. Without a doubt the grace of God and the prayers of the Iranian nation were a factor in this success.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu agrees that the deal is a great Iranian success. “What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement,” he insisted, “it’s a historic mistake. . . It’s not made the world a safer place. . . this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.”

U.S. Republicans – at least some – agree. Senator Marco Rubio claims that “This agreement shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands. . . Iran will likely use this agreement – and any that follows that does not require any real concessions – to obtain a nuclear weapons capability.”

Of course the problem with this approach to attacking the deal is that the U.S. intelligence community long ago determined that Iran had the scientific, technological and industrial capacity to build a bomb if it wished to do so. Its leaders, they added, had not decided to do so.

Moreover, the P5+1 has but six months to make a final deal that will be, in President Obama’s words, “a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.” That will depend on preventing Iran from maintaining the capacity to enrich uranium to bomb grade level and to prevent it processing the output of its heavy water reactor in Arak to bomb usable plutonium.

The interim deal already goes far in those directions. It subjects Iran’s two enrichment sites to daily inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran has agreed to cease all work on its Arak heavy water reactor. Moreover, it turns out that the Deputy U.S. Secretary of State, William Burns, has been meeting privately with the Iranians since the June election of Rouhani. It is plausible that the essential bones of a final deal have already been agreed to.

In short, for having given only slightly on the tightened Iran sanctions, the new deal is an approach to solving one of the most critical strategic challenges of our times.

Marvin Zonis is Professor Emeritus at the Booth School of Business at The University of Chicago and can be reached at