Diplomacy With Iran: 'Most Attractive Option'?

Host Arun Rath speaks with Robin Wright, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, about the "first-step" deal between Iran, the United States, and five world powers, to curb Iran's nuclear program. Wright says the deal is the best option available after decades of sanctions and standoffs.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

For more on the deal with Iran, we turn to Robin Wright, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Hi, Robin.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Hi, Arun.

RATH: So as part of this deal, Iran has agreed to stop enriching uranium beyond what's required for just power generation or to build any new centrifuges. How big of a change is this for Iran's nuclear program?

WRIGHT: Well, Iran actually has to take some pretty tough steps in terms of being in compliance with the deal. And it will have to end enrichment beyond 20 percent. It will have to dilute or convert everything it has over 3.5 percent up to 20 percent. It will have to go through daily inspections of the two most controversial facilities. It will not be able to make any progress on the most controversial facility at Iraq.

RATH: It sounds like this is pretty detailed. Why are there critics, especially - particularly Israel, that are so critical of this agreement?

WRIGHT: Well, Israel, some of the Gulf states and members of Congress have expressed concern because this doesn't force Iran to stop enriching any kind of uranium. Iran argues that it is trying to keep its right to enrich uranium for its peaceful nuclear energy program, but there are many who don't believe that or think that they are doing things on the side that might contribute to the research and development of a nuclear weapon.

RATH: Do you think the skepticism is justified?

WRIGHT: Look. There - we face three alternatives. One is a diplomatic deal, the second is an Iranian breakout capability and the third is a war. And of those three options, the most attractive is clearly a diplomatic option. This is a deal that could have been negotiated 10 years ago, but the United States and its allies have taken a different course. The Iranians pursued a nuclear development program.

And so we're at a point where the Iranians have a lot of what it takes. And the problem is you can't bomb knowledge. You can't bomb the kind of raw ability to reconstruct a program even in the aftermath of a military attack. And so the diplomatic option may not be perfect, there may be many objections to it, but it's clearly the best option on the table.

RATH: And in return for taking some of these measures, the U.S. and its allies are going to be lifting some of the sanctions - some of the many sanctions on Iran. What kind of effect do you think that's going to have for the Iranian citizen?

WRIGHT: Actually, the United States has agreed to a very limited number of changes in the architecture of sanctions. It's a total of six to $7 billion when Iran has over $120 billion frozen. So this is not the kind of wild figures that have been reported in the run-up to this deal, which will range from, you know, up to $50 billion. This is pretty small. As a token, it does say that the United States and its allies will allow more humanitarian supplies. It will allow some of the kinds of basic necessities, relief for tuition for students who want to go overseas and study.

RATH: Robin, you've been covering Iran and Iran's relationship with the United States for a long time. And I'm wondering how big a deal does it seem to you in the context of the relationship?

WRIGHT: Well, the United States has had more contact with Iran at a high level in the past two and a half weeks than it has in the previous 34 years. I covered the hostage ordeal, the Americans who were taken hostage at the American embassy in Tehran. I covered the negotiations in Algiers for their relief - release. And then I stood at the steps of the plane when they flew to freedom in Algiers.

And the difference between the tension three decades ago and what's happened in the last three weeks is really stunning. We are talking to them. We're developing relationships. And that's what diplomacy is really all about.

RATH: Robin Wright is a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Robin, thank you very much.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

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