Emily B. Landau, director, Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies

November 25, 2013

The interim deal between the P5+1 and Iran is not a disaster, but there is no cause for celebration either. It is an interim deal on the ongoing nuclear crisis that in its final form more or less fulfills the objective of President Obama: to be absolutely certain that when talking to the Iranians about the comprehensive deal, they are not busy advancing their program. The provisions are all geared to that goal, with the addition of some sanctions relief for Iran.

The problem with this deal is not its content, but rather the expectation that with the situation now frozen, the negotiators can set to work on negotiating the terms of the final deal. Unfortunately, the history of the last decade renders that expectation unrealistic. The more realistic scenario is that Iran will not sit tight, but will continue to argue and haggle with the P5+1 over every provision, and continue to press for additional sanctions relief. Even now, less than two days since the deal was secured, the US and Iranian versions that have been made public are not identical. This opens the door to competing interpretations and subsequent bickering.

Until Iran makes the strategic decision to back away from its military nuclear aspirations, it is playing a tactical game to secure maximum sanctions relief in return for minimal nuclear concessions. And the comprehensive deal? If people think the interim deal was hard to get, well, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The pressure of sanctions is what brought Iran to the table; letting go of the only leverage that the P5+1 have in these difficult talks before getting the comprehensive deal they want would be absolute folly. In fact, a disaster.