Best Analysis

The Divided Front Negotiating with Iran

Ariane TabatabaiAriane Tabatabai, Research Associate with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes in The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists that contrary to public statements, there are very really divisions between the countries within the P5+1 negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Specifically, she notes China, the United Kingdom, and Germany as being generally more quiet and less active in the talks, while France, Russia, and the United States have been the most vocal and active players in trying to shape the negotiations. She concludes that while each country has an interest in a successful conclusion to the talks, the final outcome is also being determined by each nation's interests and goals as they approach the negotiations.

Three Myths About Iran Sanctions

Aaron ArnoldAaron Arnold, Research Associate with the Program on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center, writes in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that U.S. lawmakers advocating a continuation and strengthening of the sanctions program against Iran are operating on a series of misperceptions and myths about sanctions. Specifically, he argues that the United States cannot operate under the belief that international partners will automatically a continuation of sanctions, that snap-back sanctions will not be effective in hurting the Iranian economy in the event of a violation of the terms of a nuclear deal, and that the United States will continue to dominate the international financial system. This myths are out of sync with international realities, and domestic politics needs to catch up to this fact, he concludes.

Why Nuclear Dominoes Won't Fall in the Middle East

Dina EsfandiaryAriane TabatabaiDina Esfandiary, Research Associate at King's College, London, and Ariane Tabatabai, Research Associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, write for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that an Iranian nuclear deal is unlikely to spark a major surge in developing nuclear technology in the countries of the Middle East. They look specifically at the cases of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates and examine the technical, diplomatic, and political challenges to each one to actively pursuing nuclear weapons programs, and argue from this assessment that a successful nuclear deal with Iran will not spur a nuclear arms race in the region. 

What are the Prospects for US-Iran Cooperation Against ISIS?

Mohsen MilaniMohsen Milani, Director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida, writes about the factors that are driving the regional conflict in the Middle East. Specifically, he points to the ongoing regional proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia as key in helping create ISIS. He argues that there is not a single ground force with the technical and tactical abilities, and strategic desire, to defeat ISIS apart from Iran and the Shia militias it supports, and suggests that joint actions between the United States and Iran against ISIS may help end the adversarial relationship between them and help bridge the gap to talking about other issues of mutual concern and interest.

The Lausanne Nuclear Framework: The View from Tehran

Ali VaezAli Vaez, Senior Iran Analyst at the International Crisis Group, writes about the Iranian approach to the nuclear negotiations and their view of the resulting framework agreement. Specifically, he focuses on what were the key Iranian objectives, how successfully these objectives were achieved in the negotiations, and whether the Iranian negotiating will be successful in selling the agreement at home. He notes that in general Iran accomplished its major objective of sanctions relief, but cautions against judging the nuclear agreement as something that may drastically tilt the Iranian political balance, considering the complexity of Iranian factionalism. He concludes by stating that any final agreement should be judged primarily on how well it accomplishes the goals of both sides, not how it may have secondary political effects in Iran or the United States.

Belfer Iran Brief – Senate approves Iran bill, Iranian military denies inspection of bases, and other news

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill providing for Congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, Mahan Air defied international sanctions by obtaining nine Airbus passenger planes, and more in this week’s Belfer Iran Brief, covering May 4-12, 2015.

How to Save the Iran Deal

Dennis RossDennis Ross, International Council Member at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, argues in Politico that the key to a successful nuclear agreement with Iran is not the physical rollback of the Iranian program, but the transparency measures that allow the P5+1 to assess Iranian behavior. Specifically, he suggests that Iran is probably maneuvering to maintain the diplomatic "red lines" stated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei regarding sanctions relief and enrichment, and so to both allow Iran to stay within most of their public limits while still assuaging American concerns, extremely robust verification measures are required.

"Three Myths about the Iran Sanctions"

Aaron ArnoldAaron Arnold, Associate with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that several myths continue to be referenced in discussion of the framework agreement between the P5+1 on Iran's nuclear program. Specifically, he critiques the ideas that international partners will continue to support America's efforts to sanction Iran in the absence of an agreement, that snap-back sanctions will not be effective in pressuring Iran, and that the United States can continue to control the financial system to the degree necessary to pressure Iran.

Belfer Iran Brief – Corker bill Passes Committee, Sanctions and Inspections Emerge as Main Disputes, and Other News

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a revised Corker-Menendez bill that requires Congressional review over a nuclear deal with Iran, a senior IRGC commander denied that inspectors would have access to military facilities, and more in this week’s Belfer Iran Brief, covering April 13-20, 2015.

Visualizing the Iranian Nuclear Deal

Iran Locations

To complement the publication of the policy brief “Decoding the Nuclear Deal,” the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs is releasing a package of original graphics that explain different facets of the Iranian nuclear deal.

The charts, graphs and map below track the history of diplomatic engagement with Iran, including successive red lines made and ignored; present Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, including its accumulation of low-enriched and medium-enriched uranium; and detail the recent framework accord announced on April 2.

Best Analysis on Iran Nuclear Framework

Graham AllisonGary SamoreGraham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Gary Samore, Director of Research at the Belfer Center, highlight the best analysis pieces on the recent framework agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. Specifically, they break down analysis pieces that focus on the agreement itself, its regional implications, and the domestic political response to it. 

Iranian Parliament Hardliner Releases Own “Fact Sheet” on Nuclear Accord

Chairman of the Majles Nuclear Committee
Ebrahim Karkhaneyee, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament's (Majles) Nuclear Committee. He released his own fact sheet about the nuclear negotiations this week. (Fars News Agency).

Ebrahim Karkhaneyee, the hardline chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Nuclear Committee released, his own “fact sheet” about the framework nuclear accord, outlining proposed revisions to the framework agreement.

The fact sheet was published unilaterally by Ebrahim Karkhaneyee, a representative from Hamedan province who ran for elections under the joint list of the United Principalist Front and the more hard-line Steadfastness Front. The document makes a number of suggestions, including limiting the term of the agreement to five years and not reducing the number of active centrifuges.

The article from Fars News announcing the fact sheet, in addition to the text itself, is included below.

Presidential Candidates on the Iran Deal Framework: The Republicans

Sam RatnerSam Ratner, research assistant at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes an assessment of the positions of Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, he notes a general divide between candidates who have rejected the framework agreement outright, and those who are opposed to it if it attempts to go circumvent Congressional authority. Both groups have serious reservations about the agreement.

Hezbollah ‘Delivers’ Assad: Implications of Iran’s Involvement in Syrian Crisis

Daniel SobelmanDaniel Sobelman, Research Fellow with the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes that Iran's and Hezbollah's involvement in the ongoing conflict in Syria has major potential strategic implications for Israel and the region. He notes that Iranian military and economic aid have been crucial in saving the Syrian regime, and argues that this has put Iran in the dominant position to determine Syria's strategic directory for some time to come. He goes on to state that the disintegration of state authority near the Golan Heights and the ongoing fighting there between the regime and its allies and the rebel forces has created the potential for another "border" between Israel and Iran, in addition to the positions held by Hezbollah in South Lebanon, complicating Israel's regional security posture.

Corker-Menendez approved unanimously; Congressional review time reduced, terror provision removed

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a key mover of legislation related to Iran. (Wikimedia)

By Henry Rome

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a revised version of the Corker-Menendez bill this week, and the White House confirmed that President Obama would not veto the measure. The revised version differs from its predecessor in two main ways: the length of time for Congressional review is reduced and the terrorism certification provision is removed.

Decoding the Iran Nuclear Deal

Iran Deal PrimerOn April 2, 2015, the EU (on behalf of the P5+1 countries) and Iran announced agreement on “key parameters” for a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. The EU-Iran Joint Statement is buttressed by unilateral fact sheets issued by the U.S. and Iran, which provide further details of the framework accord.  Not surprisingly, differences have emerged between the U.S. and Iranian versions of the deal. These differences reflect both political spin and remaining issues that have not been resolved.  In the next phase of this process, the negotiators will seek to finalize a comprehensive agreement by June 30, 2015.

To assist Members of Congress and others to evaluate the emerging deal, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School has prepared this Policy Brief summarizing key facts, core concepts, and major arguments for and against the emerging deal. Amidst the sound and fury of claim and counter-claim, the purpose of this Policy Brief is not to advocate support for or opposition to the deal, but rather to provide an objective, nonpartisan summary to inform Members of Congress and others in coming to their own conclusions. The team of experts who prepared this report includes Democrats, Republicans, independents, and internationals, who have many disagreements among themselves, but who agree that this Brief presents the essentials objectively. Since the negotiations are ongoing and the debate is intensifying, we invite readers who disagree with our presentation or who have additional questions or points to send their comments to us at If suitable, we will post these contributions with attribution on our website Iran Matters.

Testimony of William Tobey Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee

William TobeyWilliam Tobey, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, gave testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding Iran's compliance with its nuclear-related obligations. Specifically, he raised concerns about prior failures of Iran to meet its commitments, especially the potential military dimensions of its program, and suggested that a history of noncompliance raises concerns about Iran's future behavior in relation to any new commitments undertaken in a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Give the Nuclear Framework a Chance

Rolf Mowatt LarssenRolf Mowatt-Larssen, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes in Just Security that the framework for a nuclear agreement with Iran is a positive step, and is worth pursuing to address the Iranian nuclear challenge. Specifically, he argues that military strikes do not have a strong chance of doing more than temporary damage to the nuclear program, and that the United States will not be able to keep the sanctions coalition together if American domestic politics scuttles the agreement. He concludes by noting that while we cannot eliminate risk of an Iranian breakout attempt, the deal is a better alternative to another war in the Middle East at this time.

Belfer Experts Comment on the Framework Iran Agreement

Lausanne Negotiations
Representatives of the P5+1 and Iran stand at a press conference announcing the agreement on a framework of a deal on Iran's nuclear program. (AP Images).

The recently announced framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran regarding the Iranian nuclear program may herald a potential breakthrough in the difficult nuclear negotiations, but it remains only a framework, with key details still to be filled in. Five members of the Belfer Center's Iran Working Group--Graham Allison, Chuck Freilich, Martin Malin, Payam Mohseni, and William Tobey comment on some of the aspects of the agreement, and its potential regional and international impact.

More Analysis