Why the Iran Nuclear Deal Is a Victory for American National Security

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, before resuming tal
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, before resuming talks over Iran's nuclear program in Lausanne, Switzerland, Monday, March 16, 2015. The United States and Iran are plunging back into negotiations in a bid to end a decades-long standoff that has raised the specter of an Iranian nuclear arsenal, a new atomic arms race in the Middle East and even a U.S. or Israeli military intervention. (AP Photo/Brian Snyder, Pool)

The stunning Iran nuclear deal achieves all of our key national security goals and then some. It is a remarkable triumph that, once finalized in late June, will dramatically shrink Iran's nuclear program, freeze it, lock it up and put it under a microscope.

There are many details to work out, but the only reason to be against this deal is if you never wanted a deal in the first place.

That, of course, was the position of President Obama's political and ideological opponents here and abroad. They were caught flat-footed by the breadth and depth of the deal, left with little more than hyperbole and insults.

Wrong and Wronger

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) compared the deal to Nazi appeasement. "There's nothing for Iranians to do but go at breakneck speed to a nuclear weapon," Kirk said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated what he has been saying for the past two years, that the deal would "pave the way" for Iran to build a bomb. (Actually, he has been warning that Iran was just a few years from a bomb since 1992).

Netanyahu, Kirk and the entire neoconservative political apparatus also denounced the interim accord reached in November 2013 as a "bad deal." They were wrong. And yesterday Obama told them so:

Over a year ago, we took the first step towards today's framework with a deal to stop the progress of Iran's nuclear program and roll it back in key areas. And recall that at the time, skeptics argued that Iran would cheat, and that we could not verify their compliance and the interim agreement would fail. Instead, it has succeeded exactly as intended. Iran has met all of its obligations. It eliminated its stockpile of dangerous nuclear material. Inspections of Iran's program increased. And we continued negotiations to see if we could achieve a more comprehensive deal.

Today, after many months of tough, principled diplomacy, we have achieved the framework for that deal. And it is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.

Indeed, Obama's critics have been wrong about every aspect of this negotiation since Obama first declared his willingness to talk with our adversaries in a July 2007 presidential debate. As Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim notes:

Coming on the heels of major deals with two other longtime U.S. adversaries, China and Cuba, Obama is steadily building a diplomatic legacy to match his campaign rhetoric. . . With the only realistic alternative to negotiations being war on Iran, Obama's commitment to the process stands as a testament to the power of diplomacy to avoid, or at least postpone, bloodshed.

How to Frame a Win-Win

The beauty of this deal is how it allows all of the nations involved to leave the table and declare victory. Every good deal must do that, whether it is labor and management, or players and owners, or the P5+1 and Iran.

So, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was mobbed by happy citizens on his return home, can give a triumphant declaration that Iran has achieved all its goals: No Iranian nuclear facilities would close, enrichment would continue, the plutonium production reactor at Arak would continue and the deep underground enrichment facility at Fordo would remain open.

Zarif is correct. Iran gets to keep all of its building. But we get to take out all the furniture.

Iran's nuclear enterprise will be reduced to a fraction of its current size. This is what has so impressed even previously skeptical observers.

  • Gary Samore, president of United Against Nuclear Iran, said the deal was a "very satisfactory resolution of Fordo and Arak issues."
  • Richard Haass, former Bush Administration official and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "the skeptics, including me, should be pleasantly surprised. . . All things being equal, yes, I think this on the surface looks to be a good agreement."
  • Anthony Cordesman, the chair of strategy at the centrist Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "No perfect agreement was ever possible and it is hard to believe a better option was negotiable. In fact, it may be a real victory for all sides: A better future for Iran, and greater security for the U.S., its Arab partners, Israel and all its other allies."
  • Perhaps most surprising of all, Fox News host and bestselling author Bill O'Reilly argued, "You don't want a war with Iran. You don't want to be bombing that country, because the unintended consequences will set the world aflame. So if you can get something that's decent, you give it a shot."

The Incredible Shrinking Program

Just a few details from the White House fact sheet on the deal give you a sense of how sweeping this victory is.

Iran's inventory of centrifuges -- the machines used to enrich uranium for fuel or for bombs -- will be slashed from about 20,000 to about 6,000. Only 5,000 of the remaining machines will be allowed to actually enrich. Some 14,000 machines installed over the past 10 years will be ripped out and place in supervised storage.

Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium -- the gas that feeds the centrifuges -- will be cut by an astonishing 97 percent, from about 10,000 kilograms to 300. These two cuts together mean that even if Iran tried to "break out" of the deal, it would take it at least a year to make the highly-enriched uranium for one bomb.

The fuel core of Iran's Arak reactor will be ripped out. It will be replaced by a new core that will produce a fraction of the plutonium of the original design. The annual output will shrink from about 8 kilograms a year to less than 1 kilogram. And Iran will be banned from ever building the reprocessing faculties that could pull the plutonium from the used fuel rods. And for good measure, Iran will be forced to ship all the spent fuel rods out of the country once they come out of the reactor.

There is much, much more. But perhaps the most important part of the deal is that Iran has agreed to the most stringent inspection regime ever negotiated. We will be able to track the uranium from the time it comes out of the mine until it is stored in gas cylinders. We will have access to places and buildings we have never been allowed in before.

Some of the restrictions in the deal last 10 years, some 15, some 25 and many, including the ban on building any nuclear weapons and the inspection regime, are like diamonds -- they are forever.

In short, this deal will verifiably prevent Iran from building a bomb for at least 15 years. No American troops will be killed, and it won't cost us a dime. What's not to like?

It is by far the best of all possible options.

Iran Celebrates Nuclear Agreement