Blog Post - Iran Matters

Best Analysis on Iran Nuclear Framework

| Apr. 21, 2015

Since the framework accord between the P5+1 and Iran was announced three weeks ago, a flurry of analyses, speeches and statements have sought to explain the implications of this deal. Unfortunately, much commentary has confused rather than clarified.  In this post we seek to identify the best analyses that, in our view, help cut through the noise.

First, for readers interested in the substance of the framework accord, we recommend the Belfer Center’s recent policy brief, “Decoding the Iran Nuclear Deal,” which we believe clearly outlines the key facts, core concepts, and major arguments for and against the emerging deal.

The best pieces of analysis are grouped by subject below. While we do not necessarily agree with every point raised by each author, we think these pieces make crisp arguments and advance the discussion.

Role of diplomacy

  • Bill Burns, former Deputy Secretary of State, provides a useful roadmap for US policy in the coming months, including (1) successfully negotiating the final details of the agreement; (2) aggressively standing up to Iran’s destabilizing actions in the Middle East; and (3) using the Iran case as an opportunity to address “gray zones” in the NPT. (New York Times, 4/2)
  • Fareed Zakaria of CNN succinctly outlines the two main alternatives to a diplomatic accord as more sanctions and war, neither of which will be more effective than diplomacy in constraining Iran. (Washington Post, 4/2)
  • Aaron David Miller, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, argues that a nuclear deal with Iran is a “transaction,” and political realities in both the US and Iran “make starry-eyed transformations unlikely.” He also provides a useful reminder that “the United States can (and must) do business with regimes it doesn’t like and with which it’s likely to cooperate and compete at the same time.” (Foreign Policy, 4/6)
  • Richard Nephew, formerly Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the Department of State, compares Iranian concessions to the regime’s oft-touted red lines and argues that, “if nothing else, what’s being exchanged is temporary sanctions relief with an option on permanent relief if the Iranians do nothing to prompt concerns in the out-years that their nuclear program has regressed to a weapons option.” (National Interest, 4/17)
  • Jim Baker, former Secretary of State, identifies four weaknesses in the framework accord that must be addressed in upcoming negotiations, including ambiguity about phasing out and snapback of sanctions, disputed and cumbersome verification mechanisms, and lack of clarity about resolution of Possible Military Dimensions. (Wall Street Journal, 4/16)

Middle East response

  • Vali Nasr, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, explains why the Arab states, and especially Saudi Arabia, should welcome a nuclear deal with Iran that buys time to “shore up the economic vitality and political unity of the Arab countries.” (New York Times, 4/14)
  • George Perkovich and Sinan Ulgen, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, write that assuming Turkey will inevitably join the nuclear club following an Iran deal “ignores the important incentives the country has not to militarize its existing energy program.” (Japan Times, 4/13)
  • Ilan Goldenberg, of the Center for a New American Security, provides a useful overview of the concerns and objections among America’s Gulf Allies and Israel and the different ways the US should reassure each of its partners. (War on the Rocks, 4/9)
  • Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Ha’aretz in Israel, writes that the framework agreement is “not a bad deal” for Israel and argues that Israel will have a difficult time “fighting this agreement, or portraying it as bad.” (Ha’aretz, 4/3)

North Korea comparison

  • Robert Gallucci and Joel Wit, former leads of US negotiations with North Korea, assess failings of US policy regarding North Korea and draw conclusions about how to avoid this outcome with Iran. (New York Times, 4/10)
  • John Delury, professor at South Korea’s Yonsei University, writes that the “central lesson of the failed diplomacy with North Korea is that even the best nuclear deal with Iran is merely a prelude to the real diplomatic drama.” The best chance for the deal to stick, he argues, is political normalization between US and Iran. (Foreign Affairs, 4/5)

US political response

  • Walter Pincus, of The Washington Post, conducts a comparison of the criteria outlined by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz in 2013 for an appropriate deal with Iran, with the actual framework agreement. (Washington Post, 4/13)
    • With Pincus and Gary Sick as inspiration, we present our own comparison below:

Kissinger and Shultz’s requirements for nuclear deal, per 2013 op-ed

Framework agreement

“Strategically significant reduction in the number of centrifuges”

Number of first generation centrifuges reduced from 18,472 to 6,104.

“Restrictions on its installation of advanced centrifuges”

No enrichment permitted using advanced centrifuges, and IR-2m centrifuges dismantled.

“Foreclosure of its route toward a plutonium-production capability”

Core of Arak reactor destroyed or removed, and no reprocessing of spent fuel permitted.

“Activity must be limited to a plausible civilian program subject to comprehensive monitoring as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty”

Enrichment capped at 3.67% and stockpile of LEU capped at 300 kg for 15 years. Adherence to Additional Protocol permanent.

“Any final deal must ensure the world's ability to detect a move toward a nuclear breakout, lengthen the world's time to react, and underscore its determination to do so”

Breakout time extended from 2-3 months today to 12 months, with military option still available.


  • Dana Milbank, also of The Washington Post, reviews various reactions since the nuclear deal and concludes that “the criticism coming from Republicans and from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel is tangled by inconsistencies and logic discrepancies. The one constant: They are opposed to what Obama is doing — whatever it is.” Milbank also points out a surprising statistic: “The Congressional Research Service found that at least 18,500 international executive agreements had been reached since 1789 (17,300 since 1939) and that only 1,100 treaties have been ratified by Congress.” (Washington Post, 4/13)
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham and Gary Samore.Best Analysis on Iran Nuclear Framework.” Iran Matters, April 21, 2015,

The Authors

Graham Allison headshot

Gary Samore