‘No deal is better than a bad deal.” That should be the mantra in the hearts and minds of P5+1 negotiators as they sit down in Vienna with their Iranian counterparts next week.
This is not just the opinion of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials. Likely US Democratic presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton voiced agreement with this assertion this week during a speech before the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum.
US and its allies “have to be tough, clear-eyed and ready to walk away and increase the pressure if need,” Clinton emphasized, stressing, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
Present US Secretary of State John Kerry has said so as well. There are a few reasons why no deal is better than a bad deal.
First, a bad deal would undermine nonproliferation efforts. US allies in the Middle East, which have until now adhered to stringent nonproliferation standards, would demand the same conditions given to Iran.
Judging from statements made by Kerry before the Senate last month, the US seems to be willing to allow Tehran to retain enough centrifuges and a large enough stockpile of partially enriched uranium so that it could make a “dash” for a nuclear weapon that would take 12 months.
While adding the caveat that “I’m not saying that’s what we’d settle for,” Kerry noted that since Iran’s present breakout time was estimated to be about two months, extending this time to six to 12 months would be “significantly more.” If the P5+1 powers (the US, France, UK, China and Russia, and Germany) were to sign such a deal, which Iran would probably accept, we would quickly see additional nations working to become, like the Islamic Republic, threshold nuclear states.
Second, a bad agreement would bolster the regime in Iran without seriously addressing the nuclear threat.
Just as the deal orchestrated by Russia to cooperate with the Assad regime to eliminate chemical weapons ended up strengthening Bashar Assad by giving his regime a certain degree of legitimacy, so too would a one with Iran legitimize the Islamic Republic’s leadership and nuclear program.
Third, finalizing a bad deal with Tehran would seemingly “solve” the Iranian nuclear threat and provide justification for political leaders to shift their attention elsewhere. If Iran were to break even the minimal conditions of a bad deal and begin a dash for the bomb, the US would probably have difficulty re-organizing an international coalition to stop the mullahs. Once dropped, it is difficult to reinstate sanctions.
Finally, a bad deal would make it more difficult for Israel to carry out a military strike against Iran. The element of deterrence would be significantly compromised.
The US administration seems in a rush to reach a deal before the July 20 deadline for talks. Conservatives are expected to make gains in the US midterm elections in November, resulting in a Congress that is likely to be even less receptive to a bad deal than the present one.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, is under pressure at home to fulfill his election promise to bring relief from sanctions. The Islamic Republic’s economy is reeling from the sanctions regime still in place.
We should not be overly optimistic regarding the chances for clinching a good agreement that would halt Iran’s non-civilian nuclear program. This is because the conflict between Tehran and the West is essentially ideological.
Iran regularly persecutes women, homosexuals, non-Muslims and journalists. The violent treatment of political prisoners in Tehran’s Evin Prison is just the latest proof of the totalitarian nature of the Islamic Republic.
Negotiations in Vienna are focusing on the technicalities of Iran’s nuclear program, not the vast ideological differences that separate the US and other Western nations from Iran. P5+1 negotiators are discussing plutonium and uranium enrichment, centrifuges and heavy-water reactors.
If they are to end the Iranian threat, however, they should be discussing how the Islamic Republic can begin instituting more religious tolerance, human rights and democratic rule.
Until that happens, no deal is better than a bad deal.