Iran Deal

7 Questions About the Geneva Deal on Iran You Might Be Asking

A deal on Iran’s nuclear program and U.N. sanctions regime has been reached. But the U.S., Iran and Israel seem to be interpreting the same agreement quite differently.

Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images

It’s a good thing we’re all experts on the ins and outs of nuclear weaponization, uranium enrichment, plutonium rods and heavy water reactors—otherwise we might become dangerously confused by the radically contradictory assessments of the P5+1 Geneva deal with Iran. Here’s a quick guide to help you sort out the finer points.

1. So the deal is clear, right?Well...The Iranians released a four-page outline of the agreement. The White House released a fact sheet press release. They aren’t exactly the same.

2. Enrichment: Can they or can’t they?So, did the deal recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium? Yep, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Nope, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Zarif: “We believe that the current agreement…has a very clear reference to the fact that [the] Iranian enrichment program will continue and will be part of any agreement now and in the future.”

Kerry: “This first step—let me be clear. This first step does not say that Iran has a right to enrichment. No matter what interpretive comments are made, it is not in this document…There is no inherent right to enrich.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani: "Iran's right to uranium enrichment on its soil was accepted in this nuclear deal by world powers…Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before.”

3. Sanctions: Still in place or being eased?So, does this mean an end to the sanctions regime erected by the U.N. Security Council and international community to force Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions? Nope, according to Kerry. Yep, according to President Rouhani.

Kerry: “I want to emphasize the core sanctions architecture that President Obama, together with allies and friends around the world, have put together, that core architecture remains firmly in place through these six months.”

Rouhani: "The structure of the sanctions against Iran has begun to crack…The deal states that all sanctions will be lifted on a step-by-step basis as negotiations continue…The deal forced the sanctions system to collapse.”

4. Israel’s security: Does this help?So, did the agreement reached in Geneva enhance or diminish Israel’s security? Enhance, says Kerry. Diminish, says Netanyahu.

Kerry: “It will make our ally Israel safer.”

Netanyahu: “This is not a historical agreement, but a historic mistake…The world is a much more dangerous place today because the most dangerous regime in the world has made a meaningful step towards obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons."

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5. Israeli strike (part 1): Going it alone?So, are the chances of a go-it-alone military strike reduced or increased as a result of the Geneva agreement? Increased, according to Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Decreased, according to French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius.

Bennett: “We will not be able to sit quietly.”

Fabius: “At this stage, no. No one would understand it.”

6. Israeli strike (part 2): What would it achieve?So, even if Israel did feel it had been left alone and its very existence was threatened, would a military strike actually stop the Iranians from reaching their goal if they were intent on having nuclear weapons? Yep, according to Ephraim Inbar, head of the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University. Nope, according to Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Inbar: "An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is a risky and militarily-complicated endeavor, but within reach. Israeli ingenuity and determination could lead to a great operational and political success.”

Hanegbi: “Attacking Iran is not as powerful and effective as an Iranian decision to put an end to its military program through a diplomatic process. Striking militarily has a limited effect. It might postpone the outcome, not more.”

7. BFFs: Where does this leave the U.S. and Israel?
So, how is the U.S.-Israel alliance coming out of Geneva? Still as close as ever? Yep, if you believe Kerry. Nope, if you believe that Israel was shocked to learn about the secret U.S.-Iran channel months after it began—and then not from the Americans, but the Saudis.

Kerry: “Prime Minister Netanyahu is a friend of mine, a man I have great respect for and I’ve worked with very closely, particularly right now, on the Middle East peace process. I talk to him several times a week. I’ve talked to him as recently as the last days about this very issue, on several occasions. And the fact that we might disagree about a tactic does not mean there is a sliver of daylight between us with respect to our strategy…There is no difference whatsoever between the United States and Israel and what the end goal must be here.”

Reports circulating in Israel on Monday suggested that Obama has opened another secret backchannel, this time to Hezbollah. Watch this space.