Skip to main content

Iran talks: Do we want a deal or a war?

By Trita Parsi, Special to CNN
November 6, 2013 -- Updated 1334 GMT (2134 HKT)
September talks included Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, second from right.
September talks included Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, second from right.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Trita Parsi: Talks with Iran restarting and a good compromise is possible
  • Deal helps U.S. security and nonproliferation goals and makes Iran less hostile, Parsi says
  • Parsi: Past has been a cycle of increasing sanctions met with escalating nuclear program
  • He says it's a deal or war, one that would be worse than Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan combined

Editor's note: Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of "A Single Roll of the Dice -- Obama's Diplomacy with Iran" (Yale University Press, 2012) and "Treacherous Alliance -- The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S." (Yale University Press, 2007).

(CNN) -- Talks with Iran over its nuclear program resume Thursday. Make no mistake: The deal the Obama administration is pursuing with Iran over its nuclear program is a good deal. It will leave Iran with neither a nuclear weapon nor an undetectable breakout capability. And by ensuring that the deal also is a win for Iran, Tehran won't have incentives to cheat and violate the agreement.

Based on conversations with diplomats on both sides of the table, I believe it is a durable deal that enhances America's security and nonproliferation goals while making Iran much less hostile and U.S. allies in the region much more safe.

And make no mistake about the flip side: The alternative to this deal -- the continuation of the sanctions path -- will see Iran continue to inch toward a nuclear weapons option while the U.S. and Iran gravitate toward a disastrous military confrontation.

Trita Parsi
Trita Parsi

It's either a deal or another war in the Middle East. Those are the stakes.

It is true that Iran is eager to get a deal. President Hassan Rouhani will likely lose the popular support he enjoys unless he can find a fix to Iran's economic troubles. The best way of achieving that goal is to reduce Iran's tensions with the U.S. and get sanctions lifted by showing flexibility on the nuclear issue.

But it is also true that Washington needs a deal.

Iran's nuclear program has steadily advanced over the years. As the West has escalated sanctions to gain leverage, the Iranians have escalated their nuclear program for the same reason.

In 2005, the Iranians offered to cap their enrichment program at 3,000 centrifuges. The West nixed that offer. By the time the George W. Bush administration left office, the Iranians had around 7,221 centrifuges. Today, they have more than 19,000 centrifuges. Their stockpile of low enriched uranium has reached more than 10,000 kilograms. It was around 1,000 kilograms when Barack Obama took office.

The end result is that the Iranians have added a lot of new facts on the ground, making a complete roll back a near impossibility. The nuclear deal that could have been secured years ago is likely more attractive than any deal Washington can strike a year from now.

The human cost of Iranian sanctions
U.S. negotiator discusses new Iran talks
Israel: Iran must dismantle centrifuges

In addition, Washington's current negotiation cards may soon expire.

The sanctions regime and the international consensus to isolate Tehran might quickly disintegrate if talks fail and the blame falls on Washington (read Congress). In fact, the Iranians are counting on this.

The more forthcoming, flexible and reasonable they come across on the nuclear issue in their current charm offensive and the more the U.S. Congress puts its hawkishness and dysfunctionality on public display, the easier they can shift the blame for the impasse onto the United States and the more successful they will be in peeling countries off from the sanctions regime.

This is exactly how Obama succeeded in securing this unlikely sanctions program in the first place: His extended hand of friendship in 2009 and Tehran's inability to unclench its fist shifted the blame squarely to the rulers of Iran. As a result, sanctions that the Bush administration did not even dare to dream of became reality only 18 months into Obama's presidency.

The Iranians have now set the stage to return the favor if Congress fails to be serious about a deal.

Those in Congress worried that even the offer of modest sanctions relief in the talks will cause the collapse of the current sanctions infrastructure must consider how quickly sanctions can fall apart if there isn't a deal. In the former case, Washington will extract valuable concessions from Iran in return for the lifting of sanctions. In the latter case, Washington will lose the sanctions without getting anything from the Iranians.

And the moment the sanctions regime begins to fall apart while Tehran continues to expand its nuclear program, the calls for military action will rise once more.

That would be the cost of Congress overplaying its hand.

No wonder U.S. lead negotiator Wendy Sherman told CNN after the last round of talks that "we have to do everything we can to reach a diplomatic solution." She continued: "There are other options, but a diplomatic solution is the best option, and we all have to do everything we can as quickly as we can to see if in fact we can achieve just that."

The American people sent an unmistakable message to Congress against war with Syria. On Iran, the American public needs to make its voice heard on Capitol Hill once more in order to avoid a war that would be far more devastating than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Fortunately, diplomacy is not only the best available option, the deal Obama is pursuing is also a very good option.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Trita Parsi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT