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opinion

The responses to the announced "framework agreement" on the Iranian nuclear program have been predictable. President Barack Obama thinks it is "historic". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls it "dangerous", and has the animated support of a Republican Congress ready to leap at signs of perfidious weakness from the U.S. President.

The problem with all this is that there is no deal. There is a framework of a deal, a limit on the number of centrifuges, the presence of inspectors, and an easing of sanctions. But the closer the framework is analysed, the clearer it is that, as they always say in negotiations, "there's no deal until there's a whole deal".

Mr. Obama must feel he needs to wax eloquent because he's trying to stop Congress from passing even tighter sanctions, and he knows his veto, if it comes to that, will need to have public support. Mr. Netanyahu wants to bring the Iranian regime to its knees – an objective shared by most people in Israel – but is at his weakest when he tries to outline the alternative to the logic that Iran will not slow down its nuclear path unless sanctions are eased.

Within Iran we can see signs of an effort to play down the framework and to keep pushing for more concessions. If Canada had at least a listening post there we might have a better sense of how the debate is unfolding within the ranks of the government. But the megaphone diplomacy now in vogue in Ottawa has ruled out that possibility.

It is a simple rule of negotiation that your leverage decreases dramatically if you can't walk away from a deal. My difficulty with Mr. Obama's positioning is that in not admitting that there's no deal yet, he gives the appearance that the details are just that, technicalities that are nothing to worry about. But at every level, the details of the deal are the deal itself.

As quoted in the Economist, in its Feb. 19 report the International Atomic Energy Association said that it "remains concerned about the possible existence...of undisclosed nuclear-related activities...including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile". It is not clear whether inspectors will be permitted to go everywhere, or whether Iran will have to cough up more information on its military and defence plans for a nuclear bomb. The parties have not agreed on how much stockpiling of low enriched uranium will be permitted.

The framework is better than no framework, but it is not the deal itself. That remains to be done, and even the fact that the parties to the framework started disagreeing publicly about its meaning and implications right after it was announced does not bode well for the next round of talks heading to the June deadline.

The objective of getting Iran to agree to get off a path to a nuclear bomb, and to offer something in exchange for a verifiable commitment is a good one. But the deal will have to be rock solid it its detail and implementation before it will reassure other potential members of the nuclear club, like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, that they should abandon that option for themselves.

The other issue is Iran's overall behaviour toward its own citizens and in the region. The Shia/Sunni divide remains deep and violent. Mr Netanyahu is not being an extremist when he points out that a regime so hostile to the very existence of Israel is a genuine threat to the peace and stability of the region. But describing a problem is a lot easier than prescribing a remedy.

It certainly makes no sense to walk away from the negotiating table now. If the framework is filled in properly it provides more security than the alternatives. But no one should be waving a piece of paper saying "peace in our time". Surely we should have learned that by now.