from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Is The Iran Deal Really a Deal at All?

November 26, 2013

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There are many arguments today about the substance of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1. But there is a prior question: is there really an agreement at all?

Looking at the text of the "agreement," the most striking thing is the conditional or aspirational language:

The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iranˈs nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful....This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures....There would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step....This comprehensive solution would involve a reciprocal, step-by step process....

Would, would, would. Not "shall."

The White House fact sheet on the "agreement" says that

Today, the P5+1 and Iran reached a set of initial understandings....

But the White House text keeps saying "will," not would. It does seem, at a minimum, that the "agreement" reached in Geneva is not self-executing and will next require negotiation of an implementation agreement. The text of the agreement says that "The E3+3 and Iran will be responsible for conclusion and implementation of mutual near-term measures...." But the need for "conclusion" of near-term measures suggests that the "near-term measures" are not actually yet agreed.

The Obama administration should clarify whether that is or is not the case, because the entire "agreement" can be hung up over that negotiation over implementation. The "agreement" does not appear to be binding on any party, which is convenient for the Obama administration in one way: no one can argue that it is a form of treaty that must be approved by the Senate.

But what is this beast? Is it a binding agreement at all? An "Executive Agreement?" An expression of intent? Given the difficulty ahead in getting Iran to comply with any promises it has made, the exact nature of those promises is worth defining.