The start of April means the end of the negotiating period for an international agreement with Iran, and while we wait for the details of the inevitable deal to emerge, we’re certain of one thing: The best deal is no deal at all.
The choice is not between a deal and war, nor is it between a good deal and a bad deal. It’s take-it-or-leave-it time: Iran takes every bit of its nuclear program to the figurative dump, or we leave the sanctions in place.
Reports differ on what will emerge from these many months of talks between Iran and a U.S.-led group of nations. But whether the agreement expires in 10 years or lasts longer, whether it limits Iran to 600 active centrifuges or 6,000, whether it sets hard limits on fissile material or provides for international monitoring of potential bomb components, whether it halts Iran one year or six months from a bomb, the bottom line is that Iran will still have a nuclear program.
It still will have the materials, the equipment, the protected labs and the scientists to go nuclear whenever it decides the time is right. And it will have months or years of restored economic production to carry its nuclear program to completion and to withstand a new round of too-little, too-late sanctions.
Meanwhile, the terms of the deal will serve as a template for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, which have no intention of ceding regional Muslim leadership to Iran. As Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal told the BBC in mid-March, “Whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same.”
(Note the lack of concern among the Arabs, Turks and even Persians that the supposed evil in the region, Israel, maintains a nuclear stockpile.)
The only way to prevent a Middle East nuclear arms race is to refuse to put on paper how far nations may go toward a nuclear bomb before facing sanctions. Keep the sanctions on Iran and explore ways to tighten them. Make the choice for Iran and its neighbors clear: Any pursuit of a nuclear program will result in crippling sanctions; abandoning (or never beginning) a nuclear program will keep your oil flowing to the world and your economy connected to global trade.