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July 14, 2015

Analysts Have Mixed Reaction to Iran Nuclear Deal

Tom Wilson

Originally published in Voice of America

Iran and major world powers have reached a long-sought deal to scale back Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for relaxing the sanctions that have devastated its economy. Reactions to the deal vary wildly. Some say the agreement will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb and will reintegrate it into the global community. Others warn it will leave Tehran as a nuclear threshold state and could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

VOA’s William Gallo spoke with analysts who provided three different perspectives on the deal.

Tom Wilson is resident associate fellow at the Center for the New Middle East at The Henry Jackson Society.

Q: We are getting the general outlines of what this deal is going to look like. … What is your opinion?

A: I think if it’s close to what was outlined in the framework agreement in April, this is going to be a pretty bad deal. In the best-case scenario, it will leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state for the next 10 years, but after the restrictions in the framework will begin to be lifted, Iran could advance even further toward nuclear breakout. So we’re looking at basically holding Iran as a threshold state, which is going to be something very difficult for Iran’s neighbors to live with.

Q: How about the inspections regime and other ways in which the West will monitor whether Iran is indeed scaling back its nuclear program, as promised?

A: Inspections are absolutely crucial, because Obama spoke about Iran having about a one-year breakout time under the terms of the agreement. Which means if there is a breach, you need to know straightaway, so that the West can take some kind of action. But as it stands, Iran has pushed back very hard against the idea that there will be inspections of military sites, which is problematic because it’s the military dimension of the nuclear program that we’re so concerned about. Rumor has it that what’s been agreed is that there will be some military inspections, but that Iran will be able to challenge this. What we have to remember is that Iran is a large country, and in the past it’s been able to conceal large parts of its nuclear infrastructure quite successfully. So the inspections issue is something we should be very very concerned about.

Q: What sorts of lessons can we learn from the North Korean nuclear deal, which ultimately failed to keep North Korea from getting a nuclear weapon?

A: I think the lesson is that people can sign up to things on pieces of paper, but the way things work out in practice is often very very different. Of course, it will come down to access for inspections in particular. But then, as with the North Korean case, it will be a question of will power on the part of the West to respond accordingly, if there is a breach. I think one thing different about the North Korea case is that, unlike with Iran, North Korea was not surrounded by a lot of other regional powers that were thinking of developing nuclear weapons in response. We have to remember that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, some Arab states, perhaps Egypt, are also threatening to develop their own nuclear programs should Iran move forward with its program.

Q: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today called this a “historic mistake for the world.”

A: A few years ago, people were wondering if there was going to be an Israeli strike. My sense is that the window of opportunity has passed on that and there won’t be an Israeli strike [now that] world powers have agreed a deal on Iran. I think the Israelis will also be concerned about how this deal will embolden Iran’s proxies. I mean, sanctions relief is going to free up a huge amount of funding that Iran can channel to groups like Hezbollah, for instance, sitting on Israel’s border. So that’s another way that this deal can impact Israel’s security. And I think that as a result, Israel – and indeed the Sunni states in the region – will be putting international pressure, and perhaps to scuttle this deal earlier on, as you mentioned, in the Congress. You’ve got this 60 days of oversight coming up. Of course, the problem there is that even if Congress rejects the agreement, Obama will in all likelihood use his veto to try and push the deal through anyway.

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