Looking ahead to a comprehensive deal

By Graham Allison and Gary Samore

As the P5+1 and Iran emerge from discussions this week on implementing the interim deal good for six months, much of the analytical community has begun to look at possible terms of a final, comprehensive agreement. Here is our latest selection of best analyses on this question and on what’s next for the nuclear negotiations.

Best analyses:

  • Henry Kissinger and George Shultz argue in the Wall Street Journal that “under the interim agreement, Iranian conduct that was previously condemned as illegal and illegitimate has effectively been recognized as a baseline,” including permission to continue enriching during the six-month period. The distinguished former secretaries of state worry that another interim deal in lieu of a final agreement would “spell the end of the sanctions regime.” Going forward, achieving a comprehensive agreement that “meaningfully” curtails Iran’s nuclear program should be the priority. To this end, Kissinger and Shultz recommend three objectives: (1) limit Iran’s nuclear capacity to only “plausible civilian uses”; (2) “leave open the possibility of a genuinely constructive relationship with Iran”; and (3) manage relationships with U.S. allies in the region.
  • In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus posts a thoughtful interview with Siegfried Hecker, a long-time analyst and participant in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Hecker’s key points: (1) “completely getting rid of the Iranian bomb option is not possible through military action or sanctions with political pressure”; (2) Iran has done “most of the work necessary to build nuclear weapons”; (3) Iran nonetheless “has not yet decided to build or demonstrate the bomb” and “therefore our focus should be on convincing them not to flip the bomb-production switch”; and (4) our best hope is to “make it clear to the Iranian regime that they are better off without pursuing the bomb.” The best outcome involves “nuclear integration, not isolation, such as those with peaceful nuclear programs in South Korea and Japan.”
  • George Will’s December 5 op-ed essentially summarizes and endorses Ken Pollack’s argument in Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy: “going to war with Iran to try to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear arsenal would be a worse course of action than containing Iran, even a nuclear Iran.” As a card-carrying conservative in the Churchillian tradition, Will reminds some of the louder advocates in this debate that “the incantation ‘Appeasement!’ is not an argument.”
  • Bennett Ramberg in the Jewish Journal seeks to debunk two popular analogies cited by critics of the interim agreement—the collapse of the Soviet Union and the failure of diplomacy with North Korea. As the late Harvard historian Ernie May teaches, the best method for testing the validity of historical analogies is to fill in a simple T-chart—one column marked “similar,” a second labeled “different.” In Ramberg’s account, the differences outweigh the similarities. Still, should a comprehensive deal fail, sanctions advocates will be keen to follow Reagan’s “template” for defeating the Soviet Union—continued pressure until Tehran capitulates.

Best news analysis by the press:

  • Geoff Dyer’s piece in the Financial Times examines the tug-of-war between the Obama administration and Congress over a proposed bill that could cut off negotiations after six months and impose sanctions with a “deferred trigger” to take effect should talks fail. The objective of congressional sanctions, according to a Senate aide: “to make sure the interim deal does not become the new status quo.” Reportedly, the draft legislation, which has not yet been made public, would also spell out the conditions Iran would have to meet over the next six months to avoid automatic triggering of the deferred sanctions.

Graham Allison is director of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School. Gary Samore is executive director for research at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. From 2009-13, he was President Obama’s White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction.