JERUSALEM – The interim agreement reached in Geneva between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran is probably the best deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program that could be reached, given current circumstances. The United States and its Western allies were unwilling to risk a military option, and not concluding a deal would have allowed Iran to proceed unimpeded toward acquiring nuclear weapons.
In an ideal world, Iran should have been forced to scrap its nuclear program altogether and hand over all of its enriched uranium to an outside power; but, realistically, that was unattainable. So the outcome of the Geneva talks is that Iran has secured some international legitimation as a nuclear-threshold power, which deeply worries its regional neighbors, from Saudi Arabia and Israel to Turkey, Egypt, and the small and vulnerable Gulf states.
Western statesmen are right to congratulate themselves on averting an immediate major crisis. But they are wrong to believe that they have resolved the Iranian nuclear threat. Indeed, it is naïve to imagine that a final agreement with Iran will be achieved in the coming six months: Iran’s seasoned diplomats will make sure that that does not happen.
So, while the interim agreement may not be a replay of the Munich Agreement in 1938, as many critics contend, it may have set the stage for an even more combustible future. US President Barack Obama may not be in office when the fire ignites, but if things do go terribly wrong, he may be remembered as another statesman who, like Neville Chamberlain, was blind to the consequences of his peaceful intentions.