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Panel 5

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Red Lines and Deadlines: The Threat of a Nuclear Iran


  • Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, National Correspondent, The Atlantic

FDD Senior Fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht moderated a lively exchange on the April 2 framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and the ramifications of an Islamic Republic with the capacity to quickly produce nuclear weapons. The panelists agreed that the framework deal is flawed, and that significant obstacles remain to forging a final nuclear deal. They differed, however, over whether a final deal would or would not be reached by the June 30 deadline.

On the framework agreement:

  •  Goldberg: Negotiating with Iran is “the worst choice – except for all of the others.” The “framework agreement” is more framework than agreement. We are still in the “prologue” – we have two months left before the deadline for a final deal. Serious concerns include how Iran chooses to use the money it receives from sanctions relief. “I assume that billions of dollars will flow to the Revolutionary Guard, to Hezbollah, and to the Assad regime” in Syria.
  • Abrams: The best the deal can provide is a few years delay to Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. This framework legitimizes rather than punishes Tehran’s bad behavior in the region.
  • Dubowitz: The preliminary agreement does cut the number of permitted centrifuges by almost half, but it also allows Tehran to build more advanced centrifuges a decade after a final deal is reached. At that point, Iran will have achieved breakout capacity that allows it to build a nuclear weapon in a negligible amount of time.

On nuclear proliferation:

  •  Abrams: Obama campaigned on supporting nuclear non-proliferation, but the Arab states will not permit a Middle East in which Iran has nuclear weapons and they do not.
  • Dubowitz: If the Saudis begin developing a nuclear capability, it is hard to imagine the U.S. imposing the same kind of sanctions regime on Riyadh as it imposed on Iran.

On congressional review:

  •  Goldberg: It is highly unlikely Obama will have to confront a veto-proof Senate majority opposed to a final deal. “This is the foreign policy signature moment for a Democratic president … Democrats are going to have to rally around their president.”
  • Abrams: Hillary Clinton distancing herself from Obama on the framework agreement could create rifts within the Democratic Party that could “sink the deal.”

On sanctions relief and snapback provisions:

  • Dubowitz: Sanctions brought Iran to the table, so those who supported them could be excused for taking a “victory lap.” But it took years to get sanctions in place and the notion that you can snap them back in the face of Iranian non-compliance is “highly dubious.” The Iranians are “not stupid.” At first they will comply with this deal, but as sanctions relief begins, they will build up pressure against future snapback provisions. Once international financial institutions and corporations return to the Iranian market, it will be very difficult to get them out.