Best Analysis

Clearing Hurdles to Iran Nuclear Deal With Standoffs, Shouts and Compromise

David SangerDavid Sanger, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center and the National Security Correspondent for the New York Times, writes in the New York Times on the shifting course of American diplomacy with Iran during the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. From the earliest meetings facilitated by the Sultan of Oman with Iranian officials, to the final hours of the tense negotiations in Vienna, he describes the shifting priorities and views of the American and Iranian diplomatic teams, and how compromises on sanctions and centrifuges allowed the deal to come together.

The deal is historic, but the US must now act to contain Iran

Nick BurnsNicholas Burns, Professor of Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and former Undersecretary of State for Policy, argues in the Financial Times that the nuclear agreement with Iran is the best option available for the West currently. He argues that in the absence of an agreement, international sanctions and pressure would have collapsed while monitoring the Iranian program would have been significantly weakened. He counters arguments that this will lead to a broader rapprochement with due to the competition in Iran between the pragmatists who are interested in discussion with the West, and the hardliners, who prefer continued confrontation. He also suggests that Iran's influence in the Sunni world will force the United States to confront Iran in the region in the future, further precluding a drastic improvement of relations.

The Iranian Nuclear-Inspection Charade

William TobeyWilliam Tobey, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes in the Wall Street Journal that the nuclear agreement with Iran does not provide stringent enough verification measures to ensure that Iran is abiding by the agreement. Specifically, he notes that in some cases, as many as twenty four days may elapse before inspectors arrive at a site to investigate, which will give Iran time to hide evidence of wrongdoing. He also argues that the deal fails by not requiring Iran to submit a full declaration of the past military dimensions of the program, meaning any actions that could have been carried out in the explicit pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Without this declaration, he argues, the agreement does not set a baseline for inspections, making it much harder for the deal to be enforced.

Implications of a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Nicholas BurnsNicholas Burns, Professor of Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the implications of the nuclear agreement with Iran. He stated that both the Bush and Obama Administrations had pursued complementary policies that have helped the United States reach the final stage of negotiations, and suggested that a deal that sets stringent controls on the Iranian nuclear program in line with the standards laid out in the Lausanne Framework would be worth congressional support. He argued that the interim agreement with Iran froze the Iranian program, gave the US and its allies verification tools to monitor compliance, and a mechanism to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it violates the accord. Finally, he argued that unilaterally walking away from the table would hurt American global standing, and would foreclose the possibility of coming to a negotiated agreement, which he suggested was still the best option for ensuring that Iran does not produce a nuclear weapon.

Analyzing the Iran Nuclear Deal

Matt BunnMatthew Bunn, Co-Principal Investigator of the Project on Managing the Atom, discusses his perspective towards the Iranian nuclear agreement. He describes how the deal restricts Iran's nuclear program, giving the world time to continue to respond to the Iranian challenge, and how the agreement, while not perfect, is a significant step in rolling back aspects of the Iranian program. He suggests that while mutual hostility handicapped talks, the presence of technical experts alongside political officials was crucial in having the final agreement come together. he suggests that while the deal may not solve all problems in US-Iran relations, it does leave the door open to future cooperation on issues of mutual concern.

Iran Edition: Iran’s press coverage and newspaper headlines after the deal

Foreign Ministers
German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, EU High Representative Mogherini, and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Vienna after the conclusion of the nuclear talks (US Department of State)

By Shirin Lotfi

Not all Iranian newspapers have shown interest in covering the nuclear talks throughout the past 20 months, but today virtually all newspapers dedicated a part of their front page to the announcement of the nuclear deal. Iranian newspapers took creative approaches to herald the nuclear deal. Below is a brief roundup of reaction. 

Explainer: Arms embargoes against Iran

July Talks
Secretary of State John Kerry and members of the U.S. delegation speak with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Iranian delegation in Vienna on July 11, 2015. (U.S. Department of State)

Nuclear negotiations with Iran have apparently reached an impasse over the future of United Nations arms restrictions against Iran. What are these embargoes, and why is there controversy?

4 Myths about the Iran Sanctions

Graham AllisonGary SamoreGraham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Gary Samore, Director of Research at the Belfer Center, identify in The National Interest four myths about the sanctions structure on Iran due to its nuclear program. Specifically, they argue that not all sanctions on Iran will be removed after a nuclear deal, that the sanctions are not clearly delineated between "nuclear" and "non-nuclear" related sanctions, that some sanctions on Iran such as a conventional arms embargo and targeting the Iranian ballistic missile program are not closely linked to the nuclear program but are addressing areas of continuing concern for the United States, and that in a final agreement many sanctions may be lifted, but will not be permanently removed, as they are codified in Congressional legislation.

Nietzsche and the Nuclear Era

Graham AllisonGraham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes in The Atlantic that the most important fact to remember when approaching the Iranian nuclear talks is to remember what American objectives are: to stop Iran verifiably and interruptidly short of a nuclear bomb. He also uses history to make the case against claims against negotiating with Iran, arguing that arms control agreements are a part of the American diplomatic, military, and political toolbox to address national security threats, that negotiating with "evil" regimes can still help preserve American security, that strict verification measures can mitigate the risk of cheating on agreements, that the United States is perfectly capable of negotiating arms control with states it is also engaged in proxy conflicts with, and that the United States can still negotiate with a regime that it seeks to undermine. 

Assessing an Iran Deal: 5 Big Lessons from History

Graham AllisonGraham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes in The National Interest that past American arms control agreements can help illuminate important lessons to consider when assessing the potential nuclear agreement with Iran. Specifically, he argues that arms control agreements can accomplish American national security objectives without resorting to war, no deal can result without compromise, arms control agreements lower the overall possibility of nuclear war, future agreements should not be scuttled by the past difficulty in negotiating with North Korea, and an agreement that meets the conditions necessary for maintaining American objectives is the most responsible option for maintaining American national security.

The Iran Op-Ed's Fatal Flaw

Graham AllisonGary SamoreGraham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Gary Samore, Director of Research at the Belfer Center, write that as  nuclear negotiations with Iran stretch into early July, scholars and politicians have published a stream of analyses of the costs, benefits and risks of a deal. The winner of our prize of the week for confusing and clouding public debate on this critical issue is an op-ed published in The New York Times on June 23, “The Iran Deal’s Fatal Flaw.”

The Saudi-Iranian “Cold War” and the battle over Yemen’s strategic worth

Hussein KaloutHussein Kalout, Research Associate with the Iran Project at the Belfer Center, writes that the ongoing conflict in Yemen is best understood as a continuation of the Saudi-Iran regional "Cold War" that has gripped the Middle Eastern region in recent years. He argues that Saudi and Gulf support for Yemeni President Hadi was originally based on the idea that an autocratic system in Yemen would hamper the spread of Iranian influence, but that after Hadi proved unable to mollify opposition groups and was pushed out by the Houthi movement, was forced to intervene to try and prevent the "loss" of Yemen to Iran. He points out that the potential for an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 on the Iranian nuclear program has also pushed Saudi intervention, due to concerns about Iran's ability to further its regional designs after sanctions are lifted. He concludes that Yemen is significantly much more important for Saudi strategy than it is for Iran, but that the Saudi goal of placing President Hadi back in power is unrealistic, and Iranian and Saudi animus will likely continue for some time.

Ignore June 30: Time is on the Side of a Better Iran Deal

James SebeniusJames Sebenius, Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project at the Harvard Law School, writes that the U.S. administration should remember that time is on the side of the P5+1, not Iran, in the nuclear negotiations. He argues that the interim agreement, which both sides are currently adhering to, severely limited the size of the Iranian nuclear program, removing any utility to play for time on the Iranian side of the talks. The same agreement, however, allowed the US and its allies to keep the majority of sanctions on Iran, costing the Iranian economy significantly, especially with the sharp decline in oil prices. Furthermore, Iran is spending money in assisting allies and proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, further depleting its treasury and causing further decline in its domestic economy. He concludes that as a result, the US can afford to keep negotiating well past the June 30 deadline, and still be in a stronger position in the talks, as long as the P5+1 holds together on sanctions.

The Hollow Core of the Iran Deal

William TobeyWilliam Tobey, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center, writes for the Iran Task Force that the emerging agreement with Iran over its nuclear program will be fatally weakened if it does not address issues of the past military dimensions of the Iranian program. He notes that while the IAEA has reported that Iran undertook a covert military program potentially related to nuclear weapons development and that the United States initially emphasized understanding all aspects of the PMD issue, Secretary of State John Kerry has appeared to back down from this demand, raising the specter that it will not be addressed in the final agreement. He argues that this is a mistake, as the US intelligence community does not have perfect confidence in knowing every aspect of the Iranian nuclear program, failing to understand every aspect of the Iranian program will hinder verification efforts, and the Iranian willingness to come clean on PMD issues is an important indicator of their willingness to comply with a final agreement.

Evaluating Key Components of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action With Iran

Jim WalshJim Walsh, Research Associate at MIT's Security Studies Program, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on methods of assessing the emerging nuclear accord with Iran. He argued that on balance, the agreement is likely to be a boon for both nonproliferation and for U.S. national security. He cautioned against using a standard of perfection for an agreement, noting that almost every nuclear arms control agreement was criticized and despite this have been overwhelmingly successful. He also suggested limits that would be necessary to make the agreement a success, that the IAEA will be able to determine if Iran is willing to hand over the necessary information on its program in order for an agreement to go forward, and that the agreement is unlikely to trigger proliferation across the region and may in fact help prompt further discussion of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. 

Is the Iran Nuclear Deal Good Enough?

Albert CarnasaleAlbert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of California, Los Angeles and Chairman of the International Council of the Belfer Center, writes in The National Interest that the crucial question that must be considered in debating the emerging nuclear accord with Iran is not "is it a good deal?" but "is it a good deal compared to the alternatives?" He argues that referencing some undefined "better deal" is not helpful for debate, and notes the key features of the emerging agreement that would push back Iran's breakout time by a year in exchange for sanctions relief. He suggests that there is debate over whether or not more sanctions would produce an agreement or cause the talks to fail, and suggests that the U.S. should compare the deal to the other two main alternatives, an unconstrained nuclear program or a war with Iran. He notes that the deal can be successful by spelling out monitoring and constraints on the program, and will create verification measures significantly stronger than those currently in place under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, although it would come with the cost of legitimizing Iran's nuclear program and providing funds that may potentially be used for terrorist activities in the region. He concludes that the deal as it appears based on information released now appears to be a good one, in that it will overall enhance the security of the United States and its allies.

Public Statement on U.S. Policy Toward the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

Graham AllisonGraham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Robert Blackwill, Member of the Board of the Belfer Center and Henry Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, General James Cartwright, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center, Paula Dobriansky, Senior Fellow with the Belfer Center's Future of Diplomacy Project, Ollie Heinonen, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center, David Petraeus, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center, Dennis Ross, International Council Member of the Belfer Center, and Gary Samore, Director of Research at the Belfer Center, are all signatories of the Public Statement on U.S. Policy towards the Iran Nuclear Negotiations published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The statement urges the Administration to continue negotiating until it has completed an agreement that strengthens monitoring and verification of the Iranian program, clears issues of possible military dimensions to the Iranian program, restricts research and development in order to delay Iran's ability to deploy advanced centrifuges, only provides sanctions relief in exchange for verifiable actions undertaken by Iran, and contains measures to penalize Iran if it violates the terms of the agreement. It also urges action in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and in the broader region to contain Iranian influence and reassure allies of American commitment to stability.

Sanctions Against Iran: A Guide to Targets, Terms, and Timetables

Sanctions Against Iran: A Guide to Targets, Terms, and Timetables

The patchwork of sanctions imposed against Iran is perhaps the most comprehensive sanctions effort ever marshaled by the international community. Organized by different countries with different priorities using different tools, sanctions played a key role in convincing Iran to accept initial restraints on its nuclear program and negotiate over its future.

Yet the complex nature of international sanctions—which isolated Iran and severely damaged its economy—today poses a serious challenge in nuclear negotiations. As diplomats strive to reach a comprehensive agreement by June 30, the extent and pace of unwinding sanctions has emerged as a core disagreement between Iran and the West.

To assist Members of Congress and observers in analyzing these issues and judging a potential comprehensive agreement, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School prepared this brief to outline the key facets of sanctions against Iran. Written as an addendum to our April policy brief, ‘Decoding the Iran Nuclear Deal,’ this report is driven by the policy debate’s leading questions:

  • If negotiations with Iran succeed in concluding a final agreement, which sanctions will be relieved, and when?
  • Is the West limited in its ability to offer sanctions relief?
  • How are international sanctions divided between nuclear-related measures and those that target other Iranian actions, like support of terrorism?
  • What role have United Nations and European Union sanctions played?
  • Will Iranian compliance with the agreement’s terms be required before sanctions are waived?
  • If Iran violates the terms of an agreement, can sanctions be re-imposed?

In an effort to answer these and other questions, this report begins by considering the history of sanctions against Iran and assesses which ones have caused the most impact. Next, it reviews the process of sanctions relief and sanctions “snap-back.” Finally, the report provides a detailed summary of American sanctions and includes recommendations for additional reading.

Lessons Learned from Past WMD Negotiations

Graham AllisonGraham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on lessons from prior weapons of mass destruction negotiations for the current talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Drawing on arms control agreements during the Cold War and the post-Cold War era, he argued that negotiated agreements on nuclear weapons are a crucial part of American national security although they are complementary to, and not an alternative to, other military, diplomatic, covert, and economic means of geopolitical competition, that no arms agreement is perfect from the perspective of both sides as they are by nature negotiated settlements, claims that the United States can't or should make agreements with "evil" regimes or those that cannot be trusted are false, the United States can make agreements with regimes that it is trying to contain or subvert in other ways, and which are in turn engaging in other actions that are threatening American citizens and soldiers, arms control agreements overall have reduced the number of nuclear weapons and helped reduce the likelihood of war, and that there is no "good" or "bad" agreement on its own, but only when assessed against alternative options.

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