July 14, 2015

CNAS Press Note: Four Questions That Will Determine the Long Term Success of the Nuclear Agreement

By Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Ilan Goldenberg

Washington, July 14 – On news that Iran and the P5+1 have come to an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg and CNAS Energy, Economics, and Security Program Director Elizabeth Rosenberg have written a new press note posing four questions whose answers will determine the success of the agreement:

  1. Will the deal prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?
  2. Will the agreement moderate Iranian behavior?
  3. Will the agreement lead to increased stability in the Middle East?
  4. Will the agreement strengthen or weaken the non-proliferation regime?

The full press note is below:
With today’s historic agreement the question turns to the long-term implications of the deal and whether years from now it will be judged as successful.  To try to put the debate into context, we need to answer four key questions.
1. Will the Deal Prevent Iran From Obtaining a Nuclear Weapon? 

The limitations on Iran’s enrichment program and the inspections and verification mechanisms that Iran and the P5+1 agreed to are sufficient to ensure that Iran will be caught long before it is able to obtain a nuclear weapon through either a covert or overt breakout. Iran’s desperation for economic relief and its desire to avoid re-imposition of painful sanctions should provide an adequate deterrent to prevent such cheating. The biggest open question is whether the United States, Iran, and the international community can sustain the political will and resources to implement this agreement in the long run. To ensure success it is important that the work not stop today and that instead a comprehensive effort is undertaken early on to put in place the necessary enforcement and implementation mechanisms, and strengthen the deal outside of the agreement itself.

2. Will the Agreement Moderate Iranian Behavior?
It is possible that in the aftermath of the agreement more pragmatic voices such as President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif can leverage the success of the deal to increase their influence inside the Islamic Republic and push for more pragmatic policies that value economic benefits and international engagement over support for terrorism and the nuclear program. However, it is also possible that cautious investors will hang back, denying Iran some economic relief that all sides expect. Hardliners may seize on this, decrying the accord, to fuel a crack down to ensure the deal does not lead to more liberal policies inside of Iran. Both of these trends may occur at the same time, leading to a significant internal political struggle. The United States should be positioned to take advantage of, and encourage, the possibility of improved relations and a more moderate Iran, while at the same time preparing for the possibility that there is no shift in Iran’s broader foreign policy.
3. Will the Agreement Lead to Increased Stability in the Middle East?
The agreement may or may not create new opportunities for the United States in the region.  On the one hand, after 35 years of poor communication Iran and the United States finally have direct channels of communication between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Iranian Foreign Minister. There is value in deepening these channels and looking for potential opportunities for cooperation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Asia, and in the maritime domain. On the other hand, the United States and Iran will continue to find themselves on opposite side of conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and to some extent Iraq. Moreover, the agreement has significantly increased the anxiety of our regional partners, most notably Saudi Arabia and Israel, who may feel insecure after the agreement and lash out more aggressively at Iran. For the United States, the right approach should include a delicate balancing act that includes: (1) more aggressively pushing on Iran’s support for destabilizing regional surrogates and proxies; (2) making new commitments to reassure our regional partners; and (3) looking for possible areas of cooperation with Iran.
4. Will the Agreement Strengthen or Weaken the Non-Proliferation Regime?
If successfully implemented, the agreement presents a historic opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of the overall non-proliferation regime, showing that the international community has the tools necessary to catch and punish problem states and force a change in approach on proliferation. It could also present an opportunity to strengthen nonproliferation norms if the best elements of the Iran deal, such as the robust inspections regime, can eventually become common practice for all NPT member states. Alternatively, if the agreement is purely implemented and collapses it could send the precise opposite message about the international community’s ability to respond to future violators. The United States and the international community will have to be especially vigilant and put in place the right combination of positive and negative incentives to ensure that the deal does not lead to Iran’s regional competitors seeking a similar enrichment capability.
Goldenberg and Rosenberg are available for interviews on the deadline and the status of nuclear negotiations. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org, or call 202-457-9409.


  • Elizabeth Rosenberg

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Energy, Economics and Security Program

    Elizabeth Rosenberg is a former Senior Fellow and Director of the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. In this capacity, she publ...

  • Ilan Goldenberg

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Ilan Goldenberg is the former Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He is a foreign policy and defense expe...