The Grand Bargain: What Iran Conceded in the Nuclear Talks

April 17, 2015 Topic: Diplomacy Region: Middle East Tags: Iran

The Grand Bargain: What Iran Conceded in the Nuclear Talks

Iran gave up its fair share in the nuclear negotiations.

This takes me to a final point: the inevitability of an Iranian challenge to the international nuclear order. Iran’s decision to embark on a nuclear program involving enrichment was not made earlier this month nor has its ramifications only emerged since the framework was forged. To borrow and abuse Kissinger and Shultz’s words, the failure in the NPT to appropriately address the threats that result from any non-nuclear weapon state’s complete nuclear fuel cycle is what “will enable Iran to become a significant nuclear, industrial and military power” after the framework agreement expires at some point in the future, not the framework agreement itself. The NPT and the NPT system’s inability to deal with threshold nuclear states is itself the problem of which the Iran case is only a symptom. If Iran had never tried to engage in illicit nuclear activities, the United States and its partners never would have had the support to impose Chapter VII UNSC sanctions against Iran in the first place or engage in the effective sanctions effort that has unfolded since 2006.

Implications for the ongoing debate

Has the United States given up too much or has Iran? It is really too soon to tell. The final deal has yet to be negotiated and may still collapse. But, if a deal is reached, it will reflect compromise on both sides and involve concessions that are dearly held at home and ignored as insufficient abroad. This is the nature of diplomacy, as is the outrage of outsiders that negotiators got too little in exchange.

In the last analysis, the test of whether an agreement serves a country’s interests is not whether it or its negotiating adversary traveled the greatest distance between initial positions and negotiated outcomes. A truer test is how well the negotiated outcomes measure up against the country’s key goals in the negotiations. If, under the terms of the agreement reached, Iran is not permitted to acquire a nuclear weapon and the U.S. retains the ability to counter that threat into the future, then in my estimation, these negotiations will have been successful by any reasonable standard.

Richard Nephew is a former member of the U.S. negotiating team with Iran and Director for Iran at the National Security Council. He is currently a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution​ and program director at Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy.

Image: Flickr/ European External Action Service - EEAS