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An Iran Deal, At Last

A euphoric moment, but no party got all it wanted. Credit PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS IMO/PHOTOTHEK VIA GETTY A euphoric moment, but no party got all it wanted. Credit PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS IMO/PHOTOTHEK VIA GETTY

By By Robin Wright, The New Yorker, 14 July 2015

After nineteen days of marathon negotiations and four missed deadlines, Iran and the world’s six major powers announced a nuclear deal in Vienna this morning. The exhaustive and elusive diplomacy—sustained by an unsettling combination of Twizzlers, gelato, string cheese, and Rice Krispies treats—was dicey to the end. Secretary of State John Kerry wasn’t sure that the often volatile talks would succeed, until Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, showed up at Kerry’s working quarters, in Room 103 of the opulent Palais Coburg, just before midnight Monday.

“This has always been a Rubik’s Cube,” a senior U.S. negotiator told me. “In the early morning hours of July 14th, the last cubes clicked into place. It was an incredibly arduous and incredibly complex process.”

It was also the longest mission of a Secretary of State in more than three decades. Since October, 2013, Kerry has flown some four hundred thousand miles—the equivalent of circling the world sixteen times—to prevent a tenth country from getting the bomb.

The agreement is the Obama Administration’s boldest foreign-policy initiative. It marks the first success in dealing with Iran since its 1979 revolution and the prolonged seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran.

“This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction,” the President said in an early-morning address at the White House. “We should seize it.”

The deal—a hundred pages of technical nuclear and financial minutiae—is designed to contain Tehran’s ability to produce a bomb for at least a decade. It will also introduce broader U.N. inspections to monitor, permanently, both declared and suspected nuclear facilities, even after the deal expires.

The terms, however, are likely to give both proponents and opponents new arguments for their positions. No party got all it wanted; there’s a shortcoming to every benefit. And, in geopolitical terms, while the deal may check Iran’s nuclear prowess, critics will note that it recognizes the Islamic Republic as a legitimate interlocutor—and takes regime change off the table. Iranian hard-liners will make the same claim, since Tehran is now dealing with a country they call the Great Satan.