Siegfried S. Hecker, Center of International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

July 14, 2015

The Iran nuclear deal is not a grand historic mistake as some have called it, but much hard work lies ahead to make it a historic opportunity. Even so, the Iran nuclear deal was hard-won and is better than any other reasonably achievable alternative.

Negotiations over the past 20 months have already curtailed Iran’s nuclear technical capacity; the agreement calls for significant additional scaling back of the most sensitive parts of Iran’s nuclear program, making it more difficult, but not impossible, for Iran to pursue the bomb. Iran agreed to considerably greater restrictions on its program than what I thought was possible, based on a Track II meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iranian technical experts before the Joint Plan of Action was signed in November 2013.

During the past 20 years, Iran has already developed the requisite technical capabilities for an option to build a bomb. The hard work ahead must now focus on convincing Iran not to exercise that option. An intrusive monitoring and inspection regime is being put in place. It will also be imperative that the international community develops a credible and decisive response in the event of an Iranian violation of the agreement

These measures are necessary, although they are inherently adversarial. The most effective approach to dissuade Iran from pursuing the bomb is to mount a parallel, positive effort to integrate Iran’s nuclear program through international scientific and technical cooperation. The best hope is to make the civilian path so appealing—and then successful—that Tehran will not want to risk the political and economic consequences of that success by pursuing the bomb option. In other words, implementation of the deal has to provide both incentives and disincentives.

On a final note, there will be endless questioning about the technical details of the complex agreement. I take some comfort that this agreement was one of the most technically informed diplomatic negotiations I have seen. Although US Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif were in the spotlight, they had at their sides two world-class nuclear scientists, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali-Akbar Salehi. They, in turn, had the advice of nuclear experts in their laboratories at their fingertips. Scientific resources will be just as critical during implementation of the agreement, if it is to turn into a historic success.