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 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT