April 02, 2015

CNAS Press Note: What Does the Iran Nuclear Plan Achieve?

By Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Ilan Goldenberg

Washington, April 2 – In light of today’s announcement of a plan concerning Iran’s nuclear program, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Energy, Economics, and Security Program Director Elizabeth Rosenberg and CNAS Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg have written a new Press Note, “What Does the Iran Nuclear Plan Achieve?”

The full Press Note is below:

Today’s announcement is a major step forward on the way to resolving the challenges associated with Iran’s nuclear program. Though lacking in final details, nothing in the announced parameters is substantively surprising. The parameters meet the key objective of proceeding toward a final agreement that sets the conditions that will deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future.

The limitations on Iran’s nuclear program that are outlined in the parameters would make it too risky for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon without being caught and punished. The limitations on enrichment ensure that Iran would remain a year away from an overt breakout for at least 10-15 years. Much more importantly, the inspections regime seems to indicate that it would be extraordinarily difficult for Iran to pursue the more likely covert pathway for at least 20-25 years.  

The parameters announced today demand serious nuclear concessions from Iran in exchange for sanctions relief from the international community.  This relief will not be immediate, however, and the framework leaves very significant economic leverage in the hands of the United States and its allies at critical early stages of the deal.  Furthermore, relief from U.N. sanctions will only come when Iran completes its half of the nuclear deal—an important win for the United States and its allies. The new sanctions parameters should reassure skeptics, particularly those in the U.S. Congress, that Iran will remain under pressure to comply with its obligations under a deal.  Additionally, Iran will not see any relief from those sanctions, whether imposed by the U.N. or in the United States, stemming from Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, and abuse of human rights.

Negotiators still must work out significant details. The first task for the President will be to convince enough members of Congress that given the progress that has been made, Congress should hold off on any new legislation until after June 30 – the final deadline for an agreement. However, given the meaningful details, and the significance, of today’s announcement, President Obama holds very strong cards in the stand off with Congress. 

Congress played a historic role in helping to create the sanctions pressure on Iran that brought it to the negotiating table, and the possible threat of legislation was also an important tool in putting pressure on all sides to move forward with today’s agreement. It can continue this role by providing oversight over the deal and conducting contingency planning for new sanctions if Iran cheats. However, acting even more aggressively, and passing new legislation to threaten Iran and tie the President’s hands, could backfire and seriously undermine diplomacy.

The greatest challenge moving forward will be ironing out the details of the final agreement. This will be a painstakingly difficult and meticulous task, and will likely entail moments of brinksmanship when the negotiations appear to be on the verge of collapse. Given how far both parties have come, however, it is now much more likely that over the next few months, negotiators will reach a final agreement. This agreement, while imperfect, may be a tough, pragmatic, and historically significant achievement for nuclear security and nonproliferation. 

Ms. Rosenberg and Mr. Goldenberg are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or call 202-457-9409.

  • Elizabeth Rosenberg

    Senior Fellow and Director, Energy, Economics and Security Program

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

  • Ilan Goldenberg

    Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Ilan Goldenberg is 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 expert with ext...