June 4, 2015

Expected Iran Deal is a Good One, Say Top Former Officials

Washington, DC – For Harvard academic Gary Samore, the most recent proposals to have come out of the nuclear negotiations with Iran are so positive they feel “too good to be true”— not least because he believes Iran’s Supreme Leader seems “willing to accept” them. This is a remarkable shift for Samore; as president of the hawkish United Against a Nuclear Iran, his own organization has declared the negotiations a resounding victory for Iran at the expense of the U.S. But his comments in recent months indicate that he supports the expected deal.

Samore’s remarks came during an event to launch the Iran Project’s newest report, titled “Weighing Concerns and Assurances about a Nuclear Deal with Iran.” Its stated aim was to encourage “a balanced bipartisan discussion on emerging arguments for and against a P5+1 deal with Iran on its nuclear program.” Samore spoke as part of a panel which summarized the report’s key assessments and was joined by Dr. Jessica Mathews, Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, General James Cartwright, Chair of Defense Policy Studies at CSIS and former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Career Ambassador Thomas Pickering.

The panelists cited significant reductions in Iran’s number of centrifuges and nuclear capacity, and the extensiveness of international monitoring, as just some of the negotiations’ greatest successes. “Insofar as there is a score in this game, [it] is very much on the side of the p5+1 negotiators,” Mathews said. On this view, the issues that remain— including those which surround the speed of sanctions relief and enforcement mechanisms— “are all resolvable.”

Continuing in this vein, the panelists criticized those who have followed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in calling for negotiators to “call Iran’s bluff,” and walk away from the negotiations for a “better” deal. “A decision by the US,” Cartwright said, “to walk away from a process that I would say has been singly successful, would show a lack of good faith that would make it extremely unlikely […] that they would ever make it back to the table.” It is an argument, Mathews adds, which “falls completely apart” upon close inspection— “what are the realistic alternatives?”

Other criticisms of a deal were just as decisively dismissed. Mathews described the notion that other regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia, would push for a similar nuclear deal as “the weakest argument against the deal that there is.” Given that the Saudis have taken no such action, despite years of unrestricted Iranian nuclear development, Mathews asks, “why would they suddenly do so over a program that is now crawling with international inspection?”

When it comes to the broader implications of a nuclear deal on US-Iran relations, the panelists advised observers “not to expect very much change in the short or medium-term,” with a chasm of distrust still holding the two countries apart. Still, according to Mathews, a nuclear deal would remove “a huge block, the biggest block that prevents any work between our two countries in areas where our interests do converge,” notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Samore did express some concerns, emphasizing that a deal must permit “challenge” inspections of suspected undeclared nuclear sites to detect clandestine weapons development. The Additional Protocol, which Iran would likely be expected to ratify under a deal, would provide for access to such sites on a permanent basis. Accordingly, Pickering described a “synergy of inspections” to hold Iran’s program in check— tying together the “broadest ever known” program of IAEA inspections with an international network of intelligence agencies.

A full copy of the report can be found on the Iran Project’s website, http://iranprojectfcsny.org.

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