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The waiting is over, as the P5+1, in Geneva early Sunday morning, finally sealed an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. It looks like the P5+1 got a pretty good deal. At a minimum, the deal pushes back the clock in which Iran possesses “breakout capability.” And at a maximum, the deal paves the way for Iran to create nuclear power in way that’s trusted and accepted by an overwhelming majority of the international community.
To comply with the deal, according to the BBC, Iran is expected to do the following: stop high-grade enrichment of uranium, dilute or convert its stocks of 20%-enriched uranium, forgo installing new centrifuges or building new enrichment facilities, cease construction at Arak and not seek to produce plutonium there, disclose information on the Arak nuclear site, and grant IAEA inspectors daily access to Natanz and Fordo facilities.
In exchange for these concessions, as noted by Yochi Dreazen, “Iran would gain some relief from the punishing economic sanctions that had been leveled by Washington and its allies in recent years, freeing up roughly $6 billion. Tehran also won a commitment that the so-called P5+1 nations - the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain - wouldn't impose any new sanctions for the next six months. That was an important win for the Iranians since the existing measures have cut its oil exports in half and driven the price of its currency down to a historic low."
Of course, as secretary of state John Kerry said, there is “more work now.” The agreement is an interim deal, subject to possible renewal, as all sides work toward a final, comprehensive pact, one that all parties have agreed to try to complete within one year. Those upcoming negotiations will be very difficult, tedious, and there’s no guarantee that a final accord will be struck. Lots can go wrong.
Both sides can fail to sufficiently compromise to get a final deal done. Iran can fail to uphold its end of the deal, which would place everyone back at square one. The U.S. Congress can slap more sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to walk away from the bargaining table. A concerned Israel—incensed that the deal doesn’t require Iran to disable any of its 19,000 centrifuges, the core of Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program, or prohibit Iran from enriching uranium up to 3.5%—could make a move that disrupts future negotiations (air strikes, killing Iranian nuclear scientists, etc.)
To be clear, Iran and the U.S. aren’t friends. But there is a thaw in their relations, as the recent flurry of negotiations and discussions between Iran are by far the deepest and most substantive in 30 years. An interesting thing is that the U.S. had been working on a two-track path with Iran: Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Pol Affairs led the multilateral talks, while Ben Burns, Deputy Secretary of State, conducted secret direct bilateral communications with Tehran. Both avenues worked in tandem to get an interim deal done. Are all these discussions the first steps on a path to normal U.S.-Iran relations? In the future, will we look back at the interim nuclear agreement as Barack Obama’s “Berlin Wall” moment?
Surely, for academics and analysts, right now it's a guessing game. But keep in mind that talks can become a way of life, routinized, between states. And that, in turn, can reduce the levels of misperception and tensions between Tehran and Washington, which can lead to even deeper, better ties. Indeed, the Geneva accord might even provide the foundation for productive U.S.-Iran talks on pressing issues like Syria, Afghanistan, etc. Certainly, pessimists and skeptics will scoff at such thoughts. But what we know at this point is that Iran-U.S. relations are on the upswing; for the sake of Middle East and international politics and security, let’s hope they continue to improve.