Why the agreement with Iran is a good deal

Jeffrey Lewis writes: Seven thoughts about the Iran deal, in no particular order.

First, let’s be clear that the package agreed to in Geneva is an interim deal — a six-month slowdown in Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for a largely temporary easing of sanctions. The Geneva agreement will ultimately be judged on whether the parties can agree to something more comprehensive before it’s all said and done. The document does outline some of the parameters of a final deal, but they are general in nature.

Rouhani wanted some early sanctions relief to show that he could bring home the bacon — I know, that’s a terrible analogy for a Muslim country — to a populace that is economically hurting. The West didn’t want to negotiate with the Iranians while they were installing more centrifuges, new centrifuges, and equipment at the Arak nuclear reactor. The deal largely accomplishes both tasks.

Second, the Iranians gave the West pretty much everything one might have asked for — the Iranians will continue to enrich to less than 5 percent using only existing IR-1 centrifuges and limit manufacturing to replace damaged machines. Iran was never going to make a prostration before the Great Satan like Libya did in 2003, when Qaddafi agreed to give up all his weapons of mass destruction — especially having seen how that worked out for old Muammar. The restrictions on the Iranian program are, frankly, more than could have been hoped for. Thank you, France. If we can’t ease sanctions in exchange for these sorts of concessions, one really must ask what the point of pressuring Iran is.

Third, the usual suspects will complain that we’ve given away too much in terms of sanctions relief, but there are three things to keep in mind. (1) Much of the sanctions relief is temporary. If the Iranians collapse the deal, there will be plenty of takers for imposing tougher sanctions. (2) It isn’t clear to me that the sanctions regime is indefinitely sustainable. The Iranians have had quite a bit of luck challenging sanctions in European courts, and Washington doesn’t have quite the same pull in Moscow and Beijing these days. Sanctions have always been a wasting asset. It makes sense to get something for them now. (3) Moreover, if the Iranian economy starts to recover, that might be a good thing. There is a whole field of research into something called “prospect theory” that more or less boils down to a profound insight into the irrationality of human beings: we tend to fear losses more than we value gains, even if they are numerically the same. This is why your favorite basketball team waits too long to trade that promising draft pick who’ll never be more than a rotation player. If the Iranian economy starts to recover, that will probably increase the pressure on Rouhani to make a deal, not decrease it. [Continue reading…]

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