The interim agreement makes an Iranian bomb less likely

By Matthew Bunn

Matthew Bunn

The Israeli writer Ari Shavit had a piece in the November 20 New York Times that asserted that the proposed first-stage deal with Iran “would guarantee” that Iran would eventually build a nuclear bomb.  I think he’s completely wrong, for reasons I explained in an op-ed of my own in the Christian Science Monitor.

Imagine that you are an Iranian, trying to make the case that Iran should go ahead and build a nuclear bomb.  If the parties fail to reach a first-stage agreement, you will be able to make the case that there’s no real hope of accommodation with the West, that the United States and European countries will never accept the very existence of the Islamic Republic, and that Iran needs a nuclear bomb to defend its regime.  The advocates of compromise, your opponents, would be discredited.   While building a bomb would require violating Iran’s obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), there would be nothing stopping Iran from getting much closer to the bomb before it pulled out of the NPT.

By contrast, with a first agreement in place providing tangible benefits to Iran, the advocates of compromise would have shown they can deliver.  The sense of threat to the Iranian government would be reduced and the tantalizing prospect of a larger deal that would bring relief from a broad range of sanctions would be in prospect.  Getting much closer to the bomb would require reneging on the deal just reached – not just with the United States and the Europeans, but with Russia and China, Iran’s only protectors on the UN Security Council.  Your chance of making the case that now is the time for Iran shred its agreements and build a nuclear bomb would be much lower than if no agreement had been reached.

In short, a first, interim agreement, despite its imperfections, is likely to change the politics of the bomb in Tehran, reducing the chance that Iran will decide that its in its interest to build nuclear weapons.

Matthew Bunn is a Professor of Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and is a Co-Principal Investigator for the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.