Skip to main content

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

By Trita Parsi, Special to CNN
updated 8:34 AM EST, Wed November 6, 2013
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
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT