Elliott Abrams

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Is The Iran Deal Really a Deal at All?

by Elliott Abrams
November 26, 2013


There are many arguments today about the substance of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1. But there is a prior question: is there really an agreement at all?

Looking at the text of the “agreement,” the most striking thing is the conditional or aspirational language:

The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iranˈs nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful….This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures….There would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step….This comprehensive solution would involve a reciprocal, step-by step process….

Would, would, would. Not “shall.”

The White House fact sheet on the “agreement” says that

Today, the P5+1 and Iran reached a set of initial understandings….

But the White House text keeps saying “will,” not would. It does seem, at a minimum, that the “agreement” reached in Geneva is not self-executing and will next require negotiation of an implementation agreement. The text of the agreement says that “The E3+3 and Iran will be responsible for conclusion and implementation of mutual near-term measures….” But the need for “conclusion” of near-term measures suggests that the “near-term measures” are not actually yet agreed.

The Obama administration should clarify whether that is or is not the case, because the entire “agreement” can be hung up over that negotiation over implementation. The “agreement” does not appear to be binding on any party, which is convenient for the Obama administration in one way: no one can argue that it is a form of treaty that must be approved by the Senate.

But what is this beast? Is it a binding agreement at all? An “Executive Agreement?” An expression of intent? Given the difficulty ahead in getting Iran to comply with any promises it has made, the exact nature of those promises is worth defining.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Professor Watson

    Obama’s negotiation with Iran is the same that W. Bush did with North Korea. The critics of Obama are a lot of hypocrites.
    (FACTS: North Korean nuclear missiles can hit Hollywood, CA. Iran is far away from being able to do that. )

  • Posted by diana

    Yes Prof. Watson. Tough don’t forget that the N. Koreans have China behind them and China is not interested in an “invasion” by disaffected N. Koreans.
    What I never understood is why would the Russians accept a nuclear Iran as a next door neighbor.
    Can somebody explain?
    BTW, they do have all the plans to all the installations.

  • Posted by Professor Watson

    Diana, read CFR The China-North Korea Relationship
    Authors: Jayshree Bajoria, and Beina Xu, Online Writer/Editor
    Updated: February 21, 2013
    “Despite their long alliance, experts say Beijing does not control Pyongyang. “In general, Americans tend to overestimate the influence China has over North Korea,” says Daniel Pinkston, a Northeast Asia expert at the International Crisis Group”.

    Russia stands behind Iran, like China stands behind North Korea. There is much that goes on that is not in the public eye.

  • Posted by Lily

    Thank you for this blog — it is a point that no one else has raised, and appears to be a typical fudge we’ve come to expect from this administration. The surprise would be the day his WH gets something right.

  • Posted by Lily

    (FACTS: North Korean nuclear missiles can hit Hollywood, CA. Iran is far away from being able to do that. )

    A little bit simplistic, don’t you think? There are other methods for delivery.

  • Posted by Professor Watson

    Former NatSec Advisers Brzezinski(CFR member), Scowcroft (CFR and Trilateral Commission member)back Obama’s Iran Diplomacy in a letter, which stated, in part, “We support President Obama’s decision to seek a first phase understanding with Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear program now. The agreement under discussion would slow crucial elements of the Iran program, make it more transparent and allow time to reach a more comprehensive agreement in the coming year. The apparent commitment of the new government of Iran to reverse course on its nuclear activities needs to be tested to insure it cannot rapidly build a nuclear weapon. Such an agreement would advance the national security of the United States, Israel, and other partners in the region.”
    Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus (CFR), wrote in the Daily Beast that a short-term deal “would lead to the Mideast equivalent of ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union … [and] could reduce, even sharply, the biggest threat to regional peace, an Iranian nuclear bomb, and open paths to taming dangerous conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”

    I think that we all need to get on board and support the President in his endeavors for peace.

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