It has become an oft-repeated mantra by Republicans and Democrats, Members of Congress and Obama administration officials alike that when it comes to negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” While true, this pronouncement glosses over several crucial and problematic truths that will make it difficult for the public to judge a deal for themselves – and whether any announced deal is or is not “a good deal.”
First, there is no agreed upon standard of what constitutes a good deal. One of the major sources of contention between Capitol Hill and the White House has been markedly different interpretations of what conditions are necessary to prevent a nuclear Iran. And, as a BPC analysis detailed, while there is basic agreement about what issues a deal would have to address, there has been no explicit government statements on what would be considered “good” terms on each of those issues. The closest thing there is to a standard, albeit a much-disputed one, is Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements that a deal should put Iran at least one year from attaining a nuclear weapon.
Worse still, even if there were such a standard, very few people, if presented with the deal, would be capable of determining whether it lives up to that standard. Any agreement will combine multiple highly technical details—from centrifuge numbers and type, to stockpile enrichment level and amount, to research and design limitations, reactor redesigns, international monitoring regimes—that will be difficult for anyone that is not a nonproliferation expert to make sense of, let alone understand how they impact Iran’s ability to pursue nuclear weapons.