The deal with Iran tackles its nukes. It ignores everything else.

Michael Petrou on the West’s framework nuclear deal, why it’s a half-measure, and why it likely won’t mean more freedoms for Iranians

Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran and a former top nuclear negotiator. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran and a former top nuclear negotiator. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Iran is not dangerous because it is a threshold nuclear power — at least not exclusively so. It is dangerous because it is an undemocratic, terrorism-sponsoring theocracy that props up Syrian dictator and mass murderer Bashar al-Assad, and whose leaders jail people because they don’t like their Facebook posts.

The framework nuclear deal Iran has signed with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany—a formal deal must now be signed before a July 1 deadline—addresses the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, but ignores everything else.

The deal, in broad terms, seeks to curtail Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for relief from international sanctions that have crippled its economy. Analysts differ over just how hamstrung Iran’s nuclear program will be. U.S. President Barack Obama says Iran’s “breakout” time—how long it will take to build a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so—will stretch from a few months to a year or longer, though he concedes that after 13 years, when some restrictions are phased out, the breakout time will shrink to almost nothing.

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No deal—or bombing campaign, for that matter—could destroy the knowledge of Iranian government scientists. It was therefore never really possible to completely eliminate the risk that Iran might one day get the bomb. This deal, if formalized, might be the most that could have been achieved at the negotiating table. And the alternatives were not great. It’s far from certain that international sanctions could have been tightened or indefinitely maintained. Bombing Iran, at best, would have obtained only limited objectives temporarily, and Iran would probably have raced to build a bomb to give it deterrence.

But even if this current deal is a “good” one, as Obama insists, its official scope is limited. It doesn’t deal with the nature of the Iranian regime. But that’s where its true impact may be felt.

The pessimist’s view is that this deal will legitimize Iran’s oppressive theocracy in the eyes of some Iranians. It will certainly provide the regime with a lot of revenue, which it can use to buy the loyalty of Iranian citizens though public spending—in addition to bankrolling proxies like Assad and militias throughout the Middle East.

Others—and this includes some Iranians opposed to the Islamic Republic—believe a détente with the West will bring internal changes to Iran by empowering the relative moderates within its political elite who advocated negotiation in the first place.

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I think the Islamic Republic itself has been strengthened. A revolution of the sort that might upturn the entire political system now seems less likely. I’m also not confident that a softening in relations with the West will result in more freedom for ordinary Iranians.

Iran has had a government that is more open to the West for almost two years, since the election of President Hassan Rouhani. In that time, hundreds of Iranians have been executed—just as they were during the presidency of the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, former presidential candidates who ran against Ahmadinejad in 2009, remain under house arrest. Social media was aflutter in September 2013 when Iran’s new foreign minister, Javad Zarif, took to Twitter to wish Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah. But most Iranians are not permitted to use Twitter in the first place.

Related: Can Tehran be trusted?

I hope to be proven wrong. Iranians have struggled and died for democracy. Few would complain if they get it through reform rather than revolution. And I wouldn’t much worry about a liberal and democratic Iran that has the ability to easily make a nuclear bomb. Iran’s government is its biggest problem, not the weapons in its arsenal.


The deal with Iran tackles its nukes. It ignores everything else.

  1. What is it about western nations that make them want to remake every other country in the world?

    The Shah wasn’t enough of a disaster for you?

    This deal is about nukes and sanctions….nothing else.

  2. Clearly that DPhil from Oxford didn’t do the author much good. The entire premise of this article is absurd. Of course the deal with Iran doesn’t deal with any other issues other than the nuclear one. If any of those involved in negotiating it tried to make it more comprehensive then it would almost certainly fail. And if it failed under such circumstances, then the Chinese and Russians, and likely the Germans, French and Brits, would blame the USA for making unreasonable demands, the present sanctions regime would evaporate as they would all resume their business with Iran and any present leverage over the nuclear question would vanish. As Josh Marshall has put it so well, many things from Iran “would be very nice to have. But they each pale in comparison to something that the regional powers agree is a must-have – preventing the Iranian regime from building nuclear weapons, both because of the immediate threat of such weapons in the hands of a revisionist power but also because of the regional arms race it might trigger. Making such demands can only mean one of two things: either you don’t really believe an Iranian nuclear weapon is quite as dangerous as you claim or you really don’t want any agreement short of war. Or to put the latter point differently, you don’t want any negotiated settlement but only an abject defeat, which is probably only achievable through military action” (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/the-curious-indifference-to-an-iranian-bomb).

  3. Western media is rater propagandist and myopic to write this garbage. Here are some facts:

    Iran is more democratic than Saudi, Qatar, Yemen, Bahrain and other Arab states.

    Iran is today’s boggy man as they executed CIA illegally meddling in their affairs of state. Their leaders like so many other countries don’t kiss American a$$.

    While I don’t like Islamic totalitarian governments, there are cases like Pakistan, Sunni Pakistan as in 911 Sunni and late home of Osama Bin Laden, has 110 nukes and making more. Iran has 0, has ZERO and not enough weapons grade to make one. Why we worry so much on Iran with Pakistan sitting on a pile of nukes is beyond me.

    No rationality in media, just political copy type propaganda. Iran is sure a lot more civil and peaceful than where Americans have dropped their bombs, Libya’s die in sinking ships by the hundreds, Sudan, Somalia… And rember Cuba? Cuba Revolution was about kicking our US/mafia Batista and sending American Mafia back to the USA, into Vegas. Took ATF, FBI, IRA, police and others decades to clean up that mess. Yes, I just said USA made the Cuban Missile Crisis….but winners write their own crooked version of history.

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