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Does Nuclear Deal With Iran Go Far Enough?


On a Monday, this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

In 34 years of confrontation between Iran and the outside world, there's never been a deal quite like this.

GREENE: Iran says it will pause its nuclear program and neutralize its most highly-enriched uranium, the stuff that's closet to weapons grade. The United States and its allies will pause or roll back some sanctions. Both sides say the concessions are temporary, allowing six months for a comprehensive deal.

INSKEEP: But the agreement has provoked intense reactions over the question of what comes next. And we'll talk it through this morning with Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Hi, Cokie.


GREENE: And we're also joined by Karim Sadjapour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, both in our studio. Welcome to you.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Great to be here.

INSKEEP: And how intense has the reaction been, Cokie Roberts?

ROBERTS: Well, it's been very intense. Mainly negative reaction, especially, of course, from Israel, but also from members of Congress, including members of Congress who are on the president's team, like Charles Schumer of New York, who says it does not seem proportional. Or Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who says in my view this agreement did not proportionally reduce Iran's nuclear program.

Also, of course, Steve, we're living in the age of instant communication and Twitter. And so there were a lot immediate Twitter reactions, including Senator Lindsey Graham, saying unless this agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven't gained anything. And even on to Senator John Cornyn of Texas, saying amazing what White House will do to distract attention from O-Care, ObamaCare.

GREENE: Cokie...

ROBERTS: So we have a whole range here.

GREENE: Perhaps wanting a distraction, I mean these have been pretty tough times politically for the president. His poll numbers have been dropping. Do Americans seem to be with him on this deal?

ROBERTS: Yes, in terms of the polling - not that people are paying that close attention to it. But when ABC News asked the question last week, if a deal, which was -it was described as pretty much what this deal is - was - whether Americans were for it or not, close to two-thirds said yes, they supported such an arrangement. But almost the same number said they didn't trust Iran to live up to it.


ROBERTS: And I think that's exactly where many members of Congress are.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the reaction from Iran, because Republican Senator Bob Corker - as we heard elsewhere in the program - described Iran as spiking the ball, celebrating by this agreement.

Karim Sadjapour, are they celebrating?

KARIM SADJAPOUR: Well, you have two reactions in Iran. You have the political reaction and the popular reaction. The political reaction at a top level has - there's been unity. People have said that Iran's nuclear rights have now been enshrined and they have considered it a victory. At a popular level there's been euphoria. This is a very young population which is desperate for reintegration with the outside world.

They've been suffocating under draconian sanctions the last eight years. And I think there's now heightened expectations, and frankly unrealistic expectations, about what this deal does for the population.

INSKEEP: Unrealistic, why?

SADJAPOUR: Unrealistic in that the sanctions are still largely in place. What this deal offers is some cash, unfrozen Iranian assets, and some very minor sanctions relief. But it's not going to undo what's been done in the last eight years.

GREENE: Jeffrey Goldberg, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, comes out and says this deal is a historic mistake. Tough language, why is he so forcefully against this?

GOLDBERG: Because he's trapped. He has been boxed in by President Obama, who has asked him or demanded of him for years that he not launch his own strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. As we know, Obama got him to agree to that. And now he feels like he's in a box. He feels that this is all a trick by the Iranians - and to be fair, it may be a trick - but he has nowhere to move.

I mean the same thing holds true for America's Arab allies, who also think that America is abandoning them for a new relationship with Iran.

GREENE: But in a strange way, is it possible that his forceful opposition to this could actually make it easier to sell this deal?

GOLDBERG: His forceful opposition to the Iranian nuclear program has brought us to this day. I mean the joke is that Obama and Netanyahu have this highly dysfunctional relationship. But together their good cop/bad cop or bad cop/worse cop act has brought us to the point where Iran has been forced to come to the table.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about another bad cop here because Congress is talking about going ahead with even deeper sanctions against Iran, even as the U.S. tries to pause here.

Cokie Roberts, is it possible that some lawmakers are calculating they're helping the president by keeping the pressure on?

ROBERTS: Oh, sure. And the president gave them credit for putting in the sanctions that actually got Iran to the bargaining table. But I think that there is going to be a lot of talk about stricter sanctions right away and a lot of that is for home consumption, Steve, for voters in various states and various districts who are upset about this, mainly because they are supporters of Israel.

But there - Senator Menendez, who's actually in a position to be writing the legislation, is saying put out there the idea of stricter sanctions with a six-month window so that the deal has the ability to work, if it does work, but sanctions are still hanging out there as a threat, and stricter sanctions as a threat. I think something like that could happen, except we are dealing with a Senate that is even more dysfunctional than it was before last week because the Democrats have deployed the so-called nuclear option in terms of filibusters. And Republicans are not willing to cooperate on much of anything.

INSKEEP: Let me put politics aside to the extent that we can in this story here and just ask, what are the reasons, when you look at it in practical terms, to be worried about this deal? How are the ways that it can - what are the ways it can go wrong?

GOLDBERG: Well, you know, for one thing, the real danger here is that Iran now is under less pressure. It can go - the leaders go back home and say, look, we've gotten several billion dollars freed in exchange for doing nothing permanent. Everything that Iran has promised to do is reversible. We can't get the money back that we're freeing up from the sanctions, so the problem is - and this is why it doesn't make much sense in one sense.

Iran is under pressure. Why loosen the pressure? It seems like it's going to be very, very hard to get to a final deal.

INSKEEP: Is the pressure loosened, though, Karim Sadjapour?

SADJAPOUR: Well, I think we're talking maybe about momentum, the momentum had, over the last several years, been one in which Iran was tremendously isolated. Now that isolation is perhaps gradually lifting. But again, the reality is that the broad sanctions architecture remains. Iran's oil industry is still under sanctions, and if indeed Iran wants to emerge from that isolation, it's going to require some consistent nuclear compromise.

INSKEEP: In just a few seconds, Jeffrey Goldberg, doesn't this agreement ultimately point toward a world in which Iran gets to enrich uranium? There's language in the agreement that says that.

GOLDBERG: Clearly. I mean the Obama administration says no, we haven't talked about that. Clearly if the Iranians get to a final deal, they're going to be allowed to have some level of enrichment. The big test is how Obama will keep them from having a military component to that program.

ROBERTS: Steve...

INSKEEP: Oh, go ahead, Cokie.

ROBERTS: John Kerry, though, yesterday said over and over again, this agreement does not include the right to enrich, whereas Rouhani says it does. So you know...

INSKEEP: It doesn't include the right to enrich, but the agreement, which I'm holding here, does say that they look toward a world in which has a mutually agreed enrichment program.

ROBERTS: And it is determinedly vague on the right question. The question about the president's leadership is something that's very important here. His polling numbers on that are in the basement at the moment and there's one set of views that says this shows that he is a strong leader who can operate on the world stage and this is good for him, another set that says it shows he weak because it's not a good deal and that Iran is taking advantage of him because of that.

GREENE: So a lot at stake for him.

ROBERTS: We'll see how this plays out.

GREENE: Yeah, a lot of stake. Cokie Roberts, thanks so much as always.


GREENE: And also joined by Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic and Karim Sadjapour from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thank you both.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

SADJAPOUR: Thank you.


INSKEEP: And we'll continue this discussion right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.