Why a Comprehensive Agreement with Iran is a No Brainer

Washington D.C. and capital cities of the other world powers are abuzz about the prospect for a comprehensive deal that closes of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. It’s still unclear if the West and Iran will be able to bridge the remaining gaps before their self-imposed deadline of November 24, or whether they will need more time to finalize a comprehensive deal. But one thing is clear: both sides have incentives and momentum to reach a final agreement.

On the eve of this most consequential deadline, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) convened an expert four-person panel Friday to discuss “An Iran Nuclear Deal: Economic, Security, and Regional Benefits.”

The panelists emphasized the nonproliferation benefits of an agreement. A nuclear arms race in a Middle East region is not in the national interest of the United States or the West. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) remains indispensable in capping the number of states with nuclear weapons and extending peaceful nuclear uses. A historic nuclear pact between the West and Iran will bolster this core bargain.

Under a final agreement, the United States and Israel will have an unprecedented means to deter and detect an Iranian push for a bomb, should they decide to do so. In return for accepting strict inspections and limits on its nuclear activity, Iran will receive modest, gradual sanctions relief as inspectors verify that Iran is rolling back its program in compliance with the agreement.  

Opponents of the interim agreement last November cautioned that negotiating with Iran was a fool’s errand—they argued that real power within Iran rests with the Supreme Leader and he would never give President Rouhani the flexibility to hammer out a deal. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated in his 2013 address before the United Nations General Assembly that actions speak louder than words. Iran’s full compliance with the terms of the interim agreement shows that Iran unexpectedly walked the talk. 

Often lost in the debate is what happens if there is no deal or if the U.S. Congress prevents implementation of a signed agreement. The second scenario will almost certainly lead to escalatory moves from Iran and endanger a return to serious talks in the future. Torpedoing an effective deal will produce enormous political and economic costs. The international sanctions regime, the tool that ushered in President Rouhani in 2013 on a platform of improving Iran’s sagging economic indicators, will crumble. China, Russia and possibly even the European Union may see that opportunity costs for indefinite sanctions—hundreds of billions in lost export revenue—are simply too great to absorb.

NIAC’s President, Trita Parsi, pointed out that Iran gets it all if Congress decides to play spoiler. Iran will get “de-facto” sanctions relief without making any nuclear concessions.

As negotiators huddle at one of Vienna’s famous cafes this weekend, there is no guarantee that all sides will “get to yes.” For thirty-five years, the United States and Iran have been at loggerheads and old memories die-hard. What is clear is that an agreement that benefits both sides is within reach, if there is sufficient political will in Washington and Tehran to overcome hardliners and support a good deal.