Iran and major world powers have reached a long-sought deal to scale back Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for relaxing the sanctions that have devastated its economy. Reactions to the deal vary wildly. Some say the agreement will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb and will reintegrate it into the global community. Others warn it will leave Tehran as a nuclear threshold state and could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
VOA's William Gallo spoke with analysts who provided three different perspectives on the deal.
Trita Parsi is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and author of “A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.”
Q: This agreement is the result of years of negotiations. What is your reaction, given what we know at this point?
A: This is absolutely historic, and it does show that diplomacy can achieve so much more than having a militant foreign policy. I think President Obama deserves an incredible amount of credit, mindful of the fact that he pursued this path of diplomacy in spite of the conventional wisdom in Washington, which said essentially that diplomacy doesn't work, that you only have to use force or coercive measures, and by the way the Iranians would never be interested in striking a deal anyway.
Q: Why do you think it will work?
A: I think because the political and geopolitical interests are aligned in a very compatible way right now. And the fact that the deal and the diplomacy that has produced it actually has assured that everyone gets something out of this deal. There's a win for every side in this arrangement and as a result, they would like to continue to enjoy the deal because they are gaining something.
Q: How is this deal being received by the public in Iran, and how much of a difference will it make for the Iranian people?
A: Well, based on the opinion polls that have been made, as well as the public's reaction to the framework agreement reached in April, they clearly backed it, are going to be absolutely overjoyed, and I think we're going to see some very interesting images of celebration on the streets of Iran. The people will obviously be very anxious to see the sanctions lifted because they have suffered tremendously under these sanctions, combined with the incompetency and mismanagement of the Iranian government itself.
Q: The next big obstacle is clearing this deal through the U.S. Congress...
A: As things are looking right now, the deal and the president are in a good position. But we have 60 days of review. There's going to be a lot of arguments, a lot of political interests. This is all coinciding with the Republican [political campaign for next year's presidential election], which has made this more politicized than it otherwise would have been. And there may also be developments in the region that may complicate matters. So in that sense, it is not a done deal. The president will have to work very very hard to get this through Congress.
Q: What do you think the chances are that this will lead to some sort of new era in U.S.-Iran relations. Is that overstating this?
A: I don't think so. I think the probability that this will be transformational is quite significant. Now it will not transform U.S.-Iran relations into an alliance or partnership, but it will transform it into something very different from the institutionalized enmity that we are seeing.
Tom Wilson is resident associate fellow at the Center for the New Middle East at The Henry Jackson Society.
Q: We are getting the general outlines of what this deal is going to look like. ... What is your opinion?
A: I think if it's close to what was outlined in the framework agreement in April, this is going to be a pretty bad deal. In the best-case scenario, it will leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state for the next 10 years, but after the restrictions in the framework will begin to be lifted, Iran could advance even further toward nuclear breakout. So we're looking at basically holding Iran as a threshold state, which is going to be something very difficult for Iran's neighbors to live with.
Q: How about the inspections regime and other ways in which the West will monitor whether Iran is indeed scaling back its nuclear program, as promised?
A: Inspections are absolutely crucial, because Obama spoke about Iran having about a one-year breakout time under the terms of the agreement. Which means if there is a breach, you need to know straightaway, so that the West can take some kind of action. But as it stands, Iran has pushed back very hard against the idea that there will be inspections of military sites, which is problematic because it's the military dimension of the nuclear program that we're so concerned about. Rumor has it that what's been agreed is that there will be some military inspections, but that Iran will be able to challenge this. What we have to remember is that Iran is a large country, and in the past it's been able to conceal large parts of its nuclear infrastructure quite successfully. So the inspections issue is something we should be very very concerned about.
Q: What sorts of lessons can we learn from the North Korean nuclear deal, which ultimately failed to keep North Korea from getting a nuclear weapon?
A: I think the lesson is that people can sign up to things on pieces of paper, but the way things work out in practice is often very very different. Of course, it will come down to access for inspections in particular. But then, as with the North Korean case, it will be a question of will power on the part of the West to respond accordingly, if there is a breach. I think one thing different about the North Korea case is that, unlike with Iran, North Korea was not surrounded by a lot of other regional powers that were thinking of developing nuclear weapons in response. We have to remember that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, some Arab states, perhaps Egypt, are also threatening to develop their own nuclear programs should Iran move forward with its program.
Q: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today called this a "historic mistake for the world."
A: A few years ago, people were wondering if there was going to be an Israeli strike. My sense is that the window of opportunity has passed on that and there won't be an Israeli strike [now that] world powers have agreed a deal on Iran. I think the Israelis will also be concerned about how this deal will embolden Iran's proxies. I mean, sanctions relief is going to free up a huge amount of funding that Iran can channel to groups like Hezbollah, for instance, sitting on Israel's border. So that's another way that this deal can impact Israel's security. And I think that as a result, Israel - and indeed the Sunni states in the region - will be putting international pressure, and perhaps to scuttle this deal earlier on, as you mentioned, in the Congress. You've got this 60 days of oversight coming up. Of course, the problem there is that even if Congress rejects the agreement, Obama will in all likelihood use his veto to try and push the deal through anyway.
Matthew Moran is deputy director of the the Center for Science and Security Studies at King's College London, which focuses on issues including nuclear proliferation and security.
Q: Would you say this is a good deal, a bad deal, or is it just too early to tell?
A: A lot of people, including myself, were quite pleased with the Lausanne framework agreement reached in April. And if this deal simply adds detail here and addresses some of those questions that remained, particularly around oversight and verification, then I think it is a very positive outcome.
Q: How does this compare to the North Korean nuclear agreement?
A: Sure. The thing here is that people have learned lessons from the North Korean experience. And so this has been one of the questions going along - are Iran's intentions purely peaceful, or are they following a path similar to North Korea, a sort of circuitous route to the bomb? I think these are considerations that the negotiators will have borne in mind on the side of the P5+1. And that's why the oversight and verification regime that will be implemented is crucial. I mean, it really is sort of the be-all and end-all.
Q: What sort of reaction will we see from hardliners, whether in Iran, the U.S., or in Israel?
A: I think the first thing to say is that from Israel's perspective, we can view this as a failure on the part of Netanyahu to stop the negotiations going ahead, to derail the talks. And of course, this is completely expected. He will denounce the deal, say it is a sell-out, etc. And he has been clear on this all along.
In Iran and the U.S., the situation in both societies mirror each other, in that U.S. Congress will have its hardliners, and in Iran there are also hardliners. Both really want to see this as a win for their own side, and they're against giving anything away. And it's made things really tough for their negotiators, because they're playing to a domestic audience as much as they are dealing with the other side.
Q: How do you think Arab governments will respond to this, given that some of those governments have threatened to pursue nuclear weapons of their own?
A: This is one of the issues - that a country like Saudi Arabia, for example, will now move down a path similar to that of Iran. Because what we have to remember is that what this deal does is that it implicitly recognizes and legitimizes illicit behavior on the part of Iran for the past 12 years. It's shown that Iran has pushed the boundaries of its international obligations and now has reached the point where it's slowly being reintegrated back into the international community. So I think others will be watching this carefully.
So I think what's very important here is the oversight and verification regime. It's hugely important that the P5+1 will be able to show to the world that we have placed a good distance between Iran and the bomb; we have rolled back their program significantly; and this oversight and verification regime will assure us, we can say with confidence, that Iran will not make a dash for the bomb or sneak out through other undeclared facilities.