Assessing the Iran Deal

Publication Date: 
September 2015
Description: 
CISSM/PPC Report
Project: 
Nuclear Past, Present and Future Project
Security Cooperation with Iran: Challenges and Opportunities
The Program for Public Consultation

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SUMMARY and KEY FINDINGS

Panelists were presented the two major options—for Congress to approve of the deal, or to disapprove of it—in terms of how acceptable or tolerable they would find it. Six in ten found either option at least tolerable.

Panelists were presented general critiques of the deal followed by rebuttals and asked to evaluate each one in terms of how convincing it was. Two thirds found convincing the argument that the whole idea of negotiating with Iran is misguided, while slightly fewer found convincing the argument that diplomacy is the best available approach. Two thirds found convincing the argument that the deal would increase the chances that Iran would end up with nuclear weapons, while just under six in ten found convincing the argument that it reduces the chance. Just over half found convincing the argument that the US could have gotten a better deal, while slightly more found convincing the argument that this was not the case.

Panelists were then presented critiques of specific of the deal—that the deal does not provide inspectors access anytime and anywhere, that the special limits are only in place for 10-15 years, and that the deal frees up about $100 billion in assets that the Iranian government could use for negative purposes. All of these arguments were found convincing by large majorities, while the rebuttals were found convincing by modest majorities. While large majorities of both parties found the critiques convincing, large majorities of Democrats found the rebuttals convincing, but only about one in three Republicans did.

Panelists were asked to evaluate arguments for and against alternatives to the deal. The argument in favor of ramping up sanctions to get Iran to give up uranium enrichment entirely was found convincing by six in ten, while the argument against this proposal was also found convincing by the same number. Asked how likely it would be that other countries would stop trading with Iran in response to sanctions, six in ten thought it would be at least somewhat likely.

The argument in favor of Congress telling the administration that it should seek to renew negotiations to get a deal with better was found convincing by six in ten.  However, a larger two-thirds (including nearly six in ten Republicans) found convincing the counter argument that this is not realistic.  Asked how likely it is that the other permanent members of the UN Security Council would agree to this plan, a majority said that it was not likely. Asked how likely it is that Iran would agree to return to negotiations and make concessions, eight in ten said it was not likely.  

The argument for using military threats against Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program and allow anytime/anywhere inspections was found unconvincing by a modest majority, while the argument against it was found convincing by more than seven in ten.  Eight in ten thought it was not likely that Iran would capitulate in response to such threats.

After considering the various arguments and options, panelists reassessed the options separately. Approving of the deal was found slightly more acceptable or tolerable, and not approving of the deal slightly less so.

Panelists were finally asked whether they would recommend that their Members of Congress approve of the deal. Those that did not recommend approval were offered other options. Ultimately 55% recommended approval, including 72% of Democrats, 61% of Independents and 33% of Republicans. Twenty-three percent recommended ramping up sanctions, 14% seeking to renegotiate the deal, and 7% using military threats.