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POV: Iran Nuclear Accord Is a Good Deal

Critics of agreement miss the lessons of history

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Strip away all the rhetoric, and the November 23 agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program emerges as an exercise in realism. It recognizes that three decades of enmity and distrust will not be erased overnight, nor can the knowledge of how to make a nuclear weapon be destroyed. This interim agreement represents a first step in verifiably ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program can be strictly limited to peaceful purposes. It is definitely a path worth pursuing.

The outlines of the agreement are simple: in return for a six-month halt to certain construction and enrichment activities, conversion and dilution of an existing 20 percent of enriched uranium stocks, and intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United States and other powers will offer limited relief from crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy. In essence, it deprives Iran of the opportunity to readily further enrich uranium to levels of purity necessary for nuclear weapons. Over the course of this six-month agreement, the sides will explore the possibility of a comprehensive pact that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is limited to civilian purposes and that treats Iran as any other signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If, during the next six months, it becomes clear that the Iranians are cheating or trying to hide a military program, then the sanctions can be reimposed immediately and further steps considered. It is worth highlighting that the Iranians made this agreement not just with the United States and its European allies, but also with the Russians and the Chinese. The Iranians would have to weigh the costs of crossing its most sympathetic global powers by failing to live up to the agreement.

Far from being the “historic mistake” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contends, the accord is the first step toward a goal that we all claim to share: an Iran that does not pose a nuclear threat to our friends and allies. There are those, including in the US Congress, who argue that harsh sanctions have brought Iran to the bargaining table and that ratcheting up the pressure even further will bring Tehran to its knees. And therein lies the problem: if Iran concludes that the real aim of sanctions is not the nuclear program, but the destroying of the regime itself, then the incentives to develop the bomb regardless of the costs are quite compelling. The point of sanctions was to bring Iran to the table: that strategy has succeeded. Let’s see what we can accomplish with further negotiations, remembering that people (and governments) with their backs to the wall tend to lash out unpredictably.

The same arguments apply to the military option, with even more force. Those who argue for “surgical strikes” ignore the old military adage that the enemy has a vote in the outcome. They assume that the Iranians will play by our rules. Nothing in recent history suggests that will be the case, and the last 10 years should have taught us something about the costs and dangers of asymmetrical warfare. Unless military action completely destroys the Iranian nuclear infrastructure and wipes out its ruling class and scientists, the Iranians will come to the one logical conclusion available: getting the bomb is their only defense against future military action.

We cannot be blind to the nature of the Iranian regime. We have many issues with them besides the potential of nuclear weapons. But this is not about trusting or liking the Iranians. It is about seeing if we can negotiate a verifiable agreement to move Iran away from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is time to have trust in our abilities, and to remember the words of President Kennedy: “We will never negotiate from fear, but we will never fear to negotiate.”

Robert Loftis, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of international relations and a former US ambassador to Lesotho, can be reached at rgloftis@bu.edu.

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu.

3 Comments

3 Comments on POV: Iran Nuclear Accord Is a Good Deal

  • student on 12.09.2013 at 1:38 pm

    Its sad the public doesnt see the real Iran. Iran is portrayed as the great enemy of the US, yet the people there are very Americanized. They also have a good amount of freedom, similar to Syria before the foreign Al Qaeda terrorists started attacking that country in hopes of setting up the Sharia Law and caliphate.

    Instead of sanctions, we should be helping Iran, along with Russia, fight these Al Qaeda, Chechen Mujaheddin(Boston Bombers), and North African (Benghazi) & Gulf State (15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi) terrorists in Syria; and prevent them from setting up Sharia Law in that state.

  • Change Iran Now on 12.09.2013 at 3:30 pm

    The speed and almost reckless haste of negotiations is more an indication of the precarious nature of the President of the United States and his party in terms of their negative slide in opinion polls with the failure and criticism over its policies such as the Affordable Care Act. Presidents in trouble have often sought a quick home run politically with a perceived foreign policy victory. We don’t have to look much further than the previous President’s use of the “surge” in Afghanistan in an attempt to divert the public’s attention from the collapse of the financial markets at home.

  • Howard I. Cohen on 12.09.2013 at 6:46 pm

    “Change Iran Now” offers a popular argument on the far right. Netanyahu and several American members of Congress have expressed this same explanation. ‘It’s a rouse by Obama to coverup problems with the ACA.’ Netanyahu simply labelled it an “historic mistake.” But I challenge each of them to explain why the five other signatories ‘signed’ on. Most of them respect Obama, but would never deliberately put their countries at risk to “make Barak look good.”

    Plus the suggestion that these several major powers don’t really know what they were doing both during the negotiations and the final signing, is naive at best, and not very reasonable at worst. They seem to be the same voice that has refused to support Obama in any effort that could possibly let him “look good.” And, conversely, make him “look bad” at any price.

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