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Margaret Warner from Geneva: Is this a done deal?

November 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Margaret Warner reports from Geneva on the deal reached late last night in the international discussions over Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
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Hari Sreenivasan: Joining us now from Geneva, Switzerland is the NewsHour’s chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner. She has been reporting on the story all week. So, it’s somewhat complicated, Margaret, but break it down for us. Which sides get what?

Margaret Warner: Well, Hari, in the days of painstaking negotiations in the Intercontinental Hotel right behind me, Iran and the U.S. both got the most important thing they needed. For the U.S., the U.S. needed to stop the clock on the advancing of Iran’s nuclear program because it’s believed to be within three to six months of being nuclear weapons capable. Not the same as having a bomb, but nuclear weapons capable.

And so the fear, the concern was that even during negotiations on a really comprehensive agreement to stop it all, that Iran would achieve that state and then President Obama would have a very unpleasant choice of military action, or letting it happen, or watching Israel launch a military strike.

So, they got a freezing –  I’ll just give a few examples of the programs that– of all of the reactors we’ve heard a lot about: Fordone, Natanz and the Arak plutonium reactor. Iran promised not to build any more centrifuges and not even operate thousands that they have installed that aren’t operational. And they agreed to no longer enrich to 20% which was weapons grade and to reduce and ultimately eliminate that stockpile.

They will be allowed to continue enriching uranium at the 3% to 5% level, which is what is used in civilian nuclear reactors. But at the end of the six months they’re not allowed to have more of that than they do right now.

Now, Iran got two things it wanted. One is a slight easing of the financial sanctions that were choking the economy and, about only $6-billion worth, and then they did get not a statement of their right to enrich, but a statement in this document here, which says that the end of the whole business, which could be ten or more years from now and the comprehensive deal fully carried out, after that, Iran will enjoy the same status as any other non-nuclear weapons producing nuclear state – say Brazil or Japan, and that implies the right to a domestic enrichment program.

Hari Sreenivasan: So what about the diplomatic consequences here? It seems that both Saudi Arabia and Israel are on the same side of the table and both in strong opposition to this deal.

Margaret Warner: I know. It’s definitely a case of strange bedfellows, Hari.

Israel just doesn’t trust, does not want Iran to have any right enrich at all, as Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear today. And they don’t trust that however good the safeguards are that Iran will ever abide by them and not have some sort of secret plan going.

So they’re very upset at even this deal because they feel it does imply a right to enrich. However, Netanyahu faces a choice: does he still try to further scuttle this interim deal, or does he start focusing more on influencing the final deal? He did mention the threat of military action today again, but few people I’ve talked to think he would dare to exercise that during this six-month phase.

Now for Saudi Arabia, it’s more complicated. What they’re really worried about is any pressure with Iran and the U.S. elevates Iran’s status and as we know they’re engaged in a great power – Sunni versus Shia rivalry in the Gulf. But Saudi does not have a lot of clout in the U.S. Congress, so they aren’t expected to do much at home. What they are expected to try to do is try to shape the final deal as much as they can.

Hari Sreenivasan: So what happens in the next six months?  Will we see more regular checks on Iran and its nuclear progress?

Margaret Warner Yes, absolutely.

One of the elements of this deal is that Iran agrees to much more intrusive verification and that’s part of the whole implementations of this phase one deal.

In addition, they have to get busy to negotiating the big deal, which is we can see from how hard these negotiations were, nobody I talked to thinks it can be done in six months as the Prime Minister Zarif originally sort of promised or pledged. And in fact this very agreement talks about a year. And then finally, President Obama has a political task ahead which is to keep Congress, hold the line from Congress trying to impose additional sanctions on Iran, even during this phase. And I thought it was telling that the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez said he still wants to push that kind of legislation with just with the six-month trigger out there.

Secretary Kerry said last– early this morning at this dawn press conference, that President

Obama would probably veto something like that. So, I think President Obama has political jobs ahead at home as well.

Hari Sreenivasan: Alright. Margaret Warner joining us from Geneva, Switzerland. Thanks so much for your reporting all week.

Margaret Warner My pleasure, Hari.