Deal or No Deal? Former American and Iranian Officials Weigh In

April 22, 2015, Washington, D.C. – On Monday, April 20th, the U.S. Institute of Peace in conjunction with eight prominent think tanks held a panel discussion entitled, Deal or No Deal?, which explored the challenges ahead in the final days of negotiations between Iran and the international community.

Panelists included Ali-Akbar Mousavi, former Iranian parliament member and human rights activist; Jim Slattery, former Congressman for Kansas’s 2nd district; Howard Berman, former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Michael Singh, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute. Stephen Hadley, Chairman of the U.S. Institute of Peace Board, moderated the discussion.

In light of the confusion concerning what has been agreed by negotiators so far, Hadley opened the discussion by asking the panelists to give their prognosis for reaching a final comprehensive agreement with Iran by the June 30th deadline.

“We are very close to a historic achievement in solving a big international crisis peacefully and diplomatically,” responded Mousavi, who served in Iran’s parliament from 2000-2004 and is now a fellow at Virginia Tech. “I’m very optimistic that we will reach this moment soon.”

Mousavi went on to explain how he could not imagine this kind of progress even two years ago when he, along with seven other former parliament members, published a letter addressed to President Obama, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton to propose a deal.

Berman, on the other hand, remained skeptical about reaching an agreement with Iran, arguing that a deal might not be reached even if everyone wants one due to the Iranian Supreme Leader who continues to make inflammatory remarks about the details of a potential deal.

Singh opened his comments by responding to a Wall Street Journal Op-ed written by former Secretary of State James Baker about “fixing” a deal with Iran. “Secretary of State Baker’s thesis is essentially that the deal isn’t where it needs to be but can be fixed,” said Singh. “I worry that the deal can’t be fixed, and that it is conceptually flawed.”

Singh argued that there are several problems with the deal outlined by negotiators on April 2nd, including the issue that the president and future presidents must continually waive sanctions every 6 months even though much can change in that period of time. He also pointed out that the outline of the agreement does not require Iran to dismantle anything, and even if there is positive change in Iran, an intact nuclear program will negatively affect the security of the region. He also noted that an agreement with Iran will not give the U.S. tools to deter Iranian support for terrorism. He concluded that Baker’s ideas are good but does not believe that a deal will be successful even if negotiators reach a deal.

Slattery gave the opinion that stringent verification measures consisting of open-access to Iran’s nuclear facilities will be the key to a good deal with Iran. In addition, he argued that Congress should give negotiators space to get the best deal possible with Iran and not make any moves that could scuttle the deal.

 “We have this historic moment, and the great tragedy would be that our domestic political forces prevent us from getting a historic breakthrough in this relationship with Iran,” said Slattery.  

In closing, Mousavi remarked that in years past the relationship between the United States and Iran has not followed a straight path. However, during these negotiations there is an opportunity to change this relationship by recognizing Iran as one of the stakeholders in the region and consider Iran as a partner in the Middle East, rather than an enemy.

Click here to view a recording of the panel discussion. 

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