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Both Iran, U.S. Took 'Leap Of Faith' In Coming To Nuclear Agreement

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Who gave up what to reach today's agreement on Iran's nuclear program and the lifting of U.N. sanctions? We're going to put that and other questions now to Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has written both about U.S. foreign policy and the Sunni-Shia divide within Islam. Welcome to the program.

VALI NASR: Thank you.

SIEGEL: To hear the president of Iran tell it this morning, every demand from the P5+1 was softened by the time a deal was reached. How big are the concessions that Iran actually had to make in this deal?

NASR: I think they're quite significant. The very reason that he was very quick to tweet yesterday, even before the deal was signed, why he was so quick to give a speech today, is that he wants to spin this the right way for the Iranian public. Iran has given up a significant amount of its nuclear program, two-thirds of its enrichment capacity, 96 percent of its stockpile of uranium. Its entire plutonium production capability has submitted to intrusive inspections that go beyond IEA requirement for any member. But it's done all of this on the promissory note that Congress will not scuttle the deal or that a new president coming into office will not walk away from the deal, so there's a certain amount of risk taken here. And none of the promissory sanctions will actually likely come to Iran before six to nine months after the IEA has had time to verify that Iranian is complying.

SIEGEL: Well, now, to hear President Obama tell it, Iran's nuclear stockpile, as you said, is greatly reduced and so is its capacity to enrich uranium. What did the U.S., though, have to concede in order to get a deal with Iran?

NASR: I think the U.S. actually made its biggest concessions to get the talks going. And those concessions were two important one - one was that the United States agreed that Iran would not completely dismantle its nuclear program, but would largely mothball it. And secondly that the deal would be time bound, that this would be a deal from anywhere between 10 to 25 years, depending on what provision. These were the two big compromises, the two big breaks from where the Bush administration stood on the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

SIEGEL: On the one hand, this is a narrow nuclear agreement. It's not diplomatic normalization. On the other hand, there's a lot of talk of the agreement permitting the U.S. and Iran to address other issues, which is often taken to mean ISIS, let's say. First, do you think this is a dependable nuclear deal and do you foresee much in the way of beneficial political consequences from it?

NASR: Well, I think every deal, it's possible that it may become undone under certain circumstances. So really, the devil lies in the detail of the implementation process going forward. But I think this deal is very unique in that ambiguity exists, that for some people this is a very narrow arms control deal akin to the one the United States signed with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. For others, it's really the coming out of the cold for Iran. And I think within Iran you have that division between the hard-liners and the supreme leader seeing this as a very narrow transactional arms control deal and the Iranian president and foreign minister seeing this as a way to engage the world and change Iran's profile.

SIEGEL: Well, is that a case of constructive ambiguity to get a deal or is that a case of real misunderstanding about what's been negotiated?

NASR: No, I think within Iran it's a real case. In other words, the supreme leader and the hard-liners want a deal that will lift some sanctions, but they don't want normalization. They don't want a broader opening whereas I think the Iranian president is trying to use this deal to mobilize the Iranian public around something much bigger with the West. And I think that is something that in practice in Iran can cause certain problems during the implementation.

SIEGEL: Many critics of this deal say apart from what's in the deal itself, you just can't trust Iran. Can you trust Iran?

NASR: Well, you always negotiate such deals with your adversaries and typically you don't trust your adversaries because no trust has existed up to that point in time. It is true that the United States and Iran have not signed on to a single document in the past 37 years. Iran has to trust that the U.S. will not walk away from this deal after, say, a lot of the nuclear infrastructure has been dismantled. And the United States has to trust Iran would not violate this deal by doing something secret. I think both of them had to embrace that ambiguity and that leap of faith in order to sign this.

SIEGEL: Vali Nasr, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

NASR: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Vali Nasr - dean of the Johns Hopkins School of International Advanced International Studies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.