November 25, 2013
The breakthrough deal that the P5+1 and Iran concluded on November 23 was not intended as a comprehensive solution to all of the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. According to the White House, the agreement “does not represent an acceptable end state” but is meant as an interim step toward a long-term solution. Consequently, the deal should be evaluated as a confidence-building exercise, and as such is a huge success. Here is why:
The agreement, the first in nearly a decade of confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, is a win for diplomacy and proof that Obama’s strategy of direct engagement with Iran works. Enabled by high-level face-to-face meetings between Tehran and Washington, the deal was struck despite significant opposition by hardliners in the US, Iran, and Israel.
The P5+1 and Iran adopted tangible, though modest, confidence-building measures that demonstrate both sides are serious about negotiations. Tehran agreed to concrete technical steps that would reduce its nuclear weapons potential by limiting its nuclear capacity and allowing greater transparency.
The deal reflects reasonable compromises. For example, the P5+1 initially demanded that stockpiled, 20 percent-enriched uranium be shipped out of Iran, but exporting uranium was unacceptable for Tehran. Instead, the two sides agreed that Iran would convert 20-percent enriched uranium hexafluoride to uranium oxide or downblend it to below 5 percent—measures that still buy threat reduction without crossing Iran’s red line.
Finally, the agreement succeeds in building trust by leaving out the hard questions, such as Iran’s right to enrichment, which would be addressed during the next phase of negotiations.
Centre for Science and Security Studies, King's College, London, and affiliate of Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation