In the early hours of Sunday morning, in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and foreign ministers from Russia, China, and Europe signed a deal to suspend aspects of Iranian nuclear work in exchange for some sanctions relief. “With this first step, we have created the time and the space in order to be able to pursue a comprehensive agreement…to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon,” Kerry told assembled diplomats and journalists.
President Barack Obama was triumphant. “Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure – a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”
He should not be so certain. Rather than prevent Iran’s nuclear breakout, historians may mark the Geneva deal as the step that most legitimized Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability.
Willing to deal is not synonymous with sincere desire to reach a comprehensive settlement. Key to successful reconciliation is truth, and there are many reasons to doubt Iranian intentions, none of which did the Geneva negotiators address. Iranian authorities say they seek nuclear technology to ensure domestic energy security, but as the Bipartisan Policy Center showed, Tehran could achieve that aim for a fraction of the cost and for decades, if not centuries, longer if it chose to invest instead in its pipeline and refinery infrastructure.