Simond DeGalbert, a former French diplomat and former member of the French negotiating team in the P5+1 discussions with Iran, writes: A comprehensive Iran deal looks ever more likely today than it did recently, even if many issues remain to be solved. Western leaders have repeatedly stated their view that no deal would be preferable to a bad one—a point that’s yielded intense debate about what exactly would constitute a good deal versus a bad deal. Considering the highly technical nature of the issues at stake, it’s no surprise the devil will be in the details. It will be hard to assess the deal before every provision of the last annex to the comprehensive agreement is signed on, if it ever happens. But assuming we do, assessing the quality of the agreement should mostly be done in light of its objectives and of the agreement’s ability to fulfil them.
If a comprehensive deal is struck, it’s important to remember that the deal is just the beginning. As hard as the negotiations have been, the implementation and enforcement of the deal over the coming years will be an ongoing challenge—but it can be surmountable as long as the P5+1 set clear enforcement mechanisms.
To understand what a deal will mean in the years ahead, it’s important to understand how the negotiations unfolded. As a matter of fact, our expectations about what a comprehensive agreement could achieve have changed over time. Since 2002, concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program have mostly been fueled by the covert development of enrichment activities, but also by their obvious inconsistency with any identifiable civilian needs and the acquisition of nuclear militarization know-how. Hence the long-term objective, enshrined in United Nations Security Council resolutions, to establish the exclusively peaceful nature of the program, through a full suspension of enrichment in Iran.
It is the assumption that this prerequisite would prevent a negotiated breakthrough that led P5+1 to alter the terms of their negotiation with Iran in the 2013 Joint Plan of Action. From that point forward, an agreement was not to be based on an unambiguous Iranian strategic shift, but rather on the insurance that Tehran’s program would not be turned from its existing dual nature to an entirely military one. Such “constructive” ambiguity about Iran’s program and intentions could be achieved through agreed upon enrichment restrictions, the conversion of the heavy-water reactor of Arak and intrusive monitoring and verification. [Continue reading…]