Peter Jones is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.
The framework for a deal on Iran's nuclear program goes further than many had predicted. If translated into a final agreement – a very big "if" – it would give solid and verifiable assurance that Tehran could not "break out" to a nuclear weapon in less than a year. In return, Iran would get phased-in relief from the pain of international sanctions.
As in any deal, neither side is getting all it wanted. Iran will retain more nuclear research capability than opponents had called for – which is to say, none. This position was never realistic and was meant to kill the talks. Iran will see real limitations on its nuclear research and the most intrusive inspections in history. It will also see sanctions removed more slowly than it would have liked and done in a way that will allow their reapplication if it's found to be cheating.
The deal will face a rough ride. Some of this will come from individuals and groups who have genuine, sincere differences over the technical aspects of the deal. In addition to questioning whether the verification is strong enough, some will point out that the deal is time-limited. Iran will retain research, equipment and knowledge, but what assurance is there that it will not march quickly to a nuclear weapon when the deal runs out? Proponents of the deal take the view that Iran will be a different place in 15 years. This represents a legitimate difference of view.
But some of the criticism will come from those for whom no deal could be acceptable. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, continues to insist that the deal should specify absolutely no nuclear research for Iran – a patently non-negotiable position. He also demands that the final deal require Iran to recognize Israel.
It is important in assessing the criticisms, then, to separate those who are not in principle opposed to any deal, but don't like aspects of this one, from those for whom no realistic deal would ever be acceptable. It is also important to ascertain why the latter take the position they do and insist from them some certainties about alternatives. For the fact of the matter is that those for whom no agreement is acceptable believe that only a change of the regime in Tehran will suffice.
In this objective, Israel and several Arab regimes have made common cause. They worry that a new Iran-U.S. relationship, which they fear this deal may usher in, will fundamentally undercut the stability of the Middle East and jeopardize the security of Washington's allies there. To this charge there are two answers.
First, it is by no means assured that this deal, if finalized, will usher in such a new era in Iran-U.S. relations. That would involve a much broader set of issues and questions. Second, what exactly have the opponents of the deal done to enhance regional stability? Mr. Netanyahu's recent contribution to easing the regional situation has been to renounce the fundamental basis of any realistic hope of an Arab-Israeli peace in order to solidify his right-wing political base. The contributions of several Arab regimes who oppose this deal have included a refusal to enact reforms that would jeopardize their absolute rule in the face of overwhelming popular desire for change. (And, in a few cases, to allow their citizens to clandestinely support violent extremist movements that target Western interests.)
None of this is to paint Iran's regime as a group of boy scouts, of course. But with friends like these …
Moreover, what do these opponents offer in return? They say more sanctions will bring about Iran's utter capitulation over the nuclear issue, but can offer no evidence or certainty that this is the case. Since their ultimate objective is regime change, the only assured method of achieving this is yet another regional war, although they will not say so because they know it is unpopular.
As we consider the nuclear framework, it is thus important to separate the critics with valid points from those who simply seek to kill it. It is also important to recognize that the latter are doing so in order to promote a course of action that could well lead to a war over regime change in Iran, while protecting their own ability to continue to defend ideologies and enact policies that offer no benefit to the West, either.