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Issue Guide: Iran Nuclear Agreement

November 24, 2013

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Iran and a group of international powers reached a deal to freeze important parts of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a temporary relaxation of sanctions. The deal has provoked strong debate within U.S. policy circles and among its allies. The following analysis and discussion explore the issues.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton delivers a statement during a ceremony after Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough agreement early on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear program. (Photo:Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Overview

White House: Fact Sheet on Deal

"Today, the P5+1 and Iran reached a set of initial understandings that halts the progress of Iran's nuclear program and rolls it back in key respects. These are the first meaningful limits that Iran has accepted on its nuclear program in close to a decade."

Los Angeles Times: Iran's Leaders Call Nuclear Deal a Success

"Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, thanked President Hassan Rouhani and his negotiating team in a message that called the Geneva talks a "success," a crucial sign of support from the nation's ultimate arbiter of national security issues."

CNN: Israeli PM Netanyahu Says Deal 'Historic Mistake'

"What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement, it's a historic mistake," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters. "It's not made the world a safer place. Like the agreement with North Korea in 2005, this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place."

Debate over the Deal

Financial Times: Deal Does Limited Things for Limited Time

"The measure of any diplomatic agreement cannot be the possible versus the ideal but rather the possible versus the realistic alternatives, in this case either living with an Iranian nuclear weapons capability that would lead others in the already unstable Middle East to follow suit or launching a preventive military strike without knowing in advance what it would accomplish or set in motion," writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Arms Control Association: A Net-Plus for Nonproliferation

"The framework agreement's first phase steps will verifiably freeze progress in all areas of acute concern regarding Iran's nuclear program, roll-back Iran's capabilities in some areas, and at the same time significantly increase International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring of its nuclear projects in exchange for limited, reversible sanctions relief."

Weekly Standard: Abject Surrender by the United States

"In exchange for superficial concessions, Iran achieved three critical breakthroughs. First, it bought time to continue all aspects of its nuclear-weapons program the agreement does not cover (centrifuge manufacturing and testing; weaponization research and fabrication; and its entire ballistic missile program). Indeed, given that the interim agreement contemplates periodic renewals, Iran may have gained all of the time it needs to achieve weaponization not of simply a handful of nuclear weapons, but of dozens or more," writes John Bolton.

Los Angeles Times: Rouhani is no Gorbachev

Iran's leaders "might be willing to temporarily suspend their nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, but there is no sign they are willing to end their cold war against the West, as Gorbachev did, which would require dismantling the entire nuclear program," writes CFR's Max Boot in an op-ed.

Slate: We Have a Deal With Iran. A Good One

"It is meant as a first step toward a comprehensive treaty to be negotiated in the next six months. More than that, it expires in six months. In other words, if Iran and the other powers can't agree on a follow-on accord in six months, nobody is stuck with a deal that was never meant to be permanent. There is no opportunity for traps and trickery," writes CFR's Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow Fred Kaplan.

Daily Beast: Stay the Dogs of War on Iran

"The deal could reduce, even sharply, the biggest threat to regional peace, an Iranian nuclear bomb, and open paths to taming dangerous conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And under the proposed deal, reportedly the only price to be paid for this would be giving Tehran a few billion dollars of its own money. No sanctions would be lifted that could not be quickly reimposed," writes CFR President Emeritus Leslie Gelb.

Background and Analysis

Wall Street Journal: What's in the Iran Deal?

"The historic deal struck between Iran and world powers is an interim agreement that gives each side a small portion of their demands."

Al-Jazeera: Seven Questions Beyond the Nuclear Deal

Marwan Bishara looks at the ramifications for Mideast politics.

CFR Interview: Behind the Growing U.S.-Israeli Rift

"Here we are at the absolute, most important point of this process, where the Iranian leadership wants to see a reduction in sanctions and is vulnerable to pressure, and the sense here is [that] the United States may be just incapable of delivering," Israel-based analyst Gerald Steinberg tells Bernard Gwertzman.

World Politics Review: The Role of Congress in American Diplomacy

"As U.S. negotiators meet with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva, administration officials back in Washington lobby Congress to set aside tough new sanctions legislation that would complicate, if not kill, the talks. Meanwhile, the White House knows it must craft its offer to Tehran with an eye toward what will be acceptable to a Congress that could be asked to repeal sanctions already on the books," writes CFR Senior Vice President James Lindsay.

Foreign Affairs: Who is Ali Khamenei?

The Iranian constitution endows the Supreme Leader with tremendous authority over all major state institutions, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held the post since 1989, "has found many other ways to further increase his influence. Formally or not, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government all operate under his absolute sovereignty; Khamenei is Iran's head of state, commander in chief, and top ideologue. His views are what will ultimately shape Iranian policy, and so it is worth exploring them in detail," writes Akbar Ganji.

The Lengthening List of Iran Sanctions

This Backgrounder provides a comprehensive look at the history and scope of U.S. and international sanctions against the Iranian regime.

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