R. Scott Kemp, assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and former science advisor to the State Department’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control

November 25, 2013

The agreement between Iran and the P5+1 must be seen for what it is: an agreement to talk on mutually acceptable terms toward mutually acceptable ends. In that sense, the deal might have ended with the preamble; but given the limited political tolerance for negotiations without concessions, both sides wisely made a serious down payment in the areas of restraint, transparency, and economic relief.

The agreement stabilizes the breakout timeline, enabling extended discussion free of new military or sanctions pressure. In the last moments, it appears that Iran has conceded most, without limiting its rights, in the areas that had previously blocked agreement. In particular, all proliferation sensitive construction at Arak shall cease, and there is no explicit recognition of Iran’s right to enrich beyond that already in the NPT. There is a clear statement that enrichment can be part of the end state, but that end state remains up for discussion.

The real work is in defining what sort of nuclear program Iran will have. This could be handled in dignified technical discussions, or it could degenerate into a battleground of politics by other means. Personally, I am confident there is a technical path that satisfies Iran’s legitimate needs and the reasonable political concerns of all sides.

Noticeably absent is an articulation of the extent to which Iran will be asked to repent for past possible military activities, but in the agreement Iran has demonstrated forward-looking transparency beyond what was needed to verify the terms agreed thus far. This underscores Iran’s newly cooperative predisposition in this regard and the hope for a new dawn.

This remains a fragile agreement. We need now to let the hard work begin and not sabotage it with pontifications about final outcomes.