Washington Experts Debate on Possible ‘Freeze-for-Freeze’ Iran Deal

WASHINGTON – The news about a possible “freeze-for-freeze” understanding between Washington and Tehran, first reported by Axios on Monday, immediately sparked a debate between experts who are closely following the discussions about the possibility of reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Dennis Ross, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that with the Iranian nuclear program advancing in a very dangerous direction, “one can see the appeal of stopping the advance.”

“The problem is, we would be freezing the program with 16 cascades enriching to 60%,” said Ross. “It is as if this becomes a new baseline. Of course, it is better to freeze and then reverse. Is that possible, it seems as long as the Iranians have no fear we would ever act militarily against their program, they will continue to feel that they have all the leverage.”

Can we judge an Iran deal without knowing any details?

John Hannah, the Randi & Charles Wax senior fellow at JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy, noted that there haven’t been any real details released about what the contours of any interim deal would be, “so it’s hard to judge.”

“How much sanctions relief are we talking about? And in exchange for pausing which elements of Iran’s program? And for how long?” Hannah asked. “At first blush, however, the idea of giving Iran billions of dollars in funds that we’ll never get back in return for a temporary freeze in 60% enrichment that Iran could reverse at a moment’s notice, looks like a bad – even a desperate – deal made from a position of US weakness.

“It looks like the administration is reviving an idea out of the old Obama playbook because it’s not willing to do what’s necessary to stop Iran’s program by restoring deterrence through coercive diplomacy, and scared to death that if Iran keeps advancing, either the United States or Israel will be forced to make good on their promise to stop Iran militarily, resulting in another war in the Middle East,” said Hannah.

“From the administration’s perspective, paying Iran off is the easiest way to hold at bay the worst-case outcomes of a nuclear Iran, on the one hand, or another major military conflict, on the other,” he continued. “And suspending sanctions to get there is a lot easier and less risky in their minds than doing the hard work and committing the resources needed to establish a credible US military option to destroy the Iranian program.

“But the price for America will be stabilizing and strengthening a terror-supporting Iranian regime now under pressure not only from sanctions, but from profound domestic discontent and turmoil among its own population,” he added.

“Under US law, any new deal with Iran on the nuclear issue should go back to Congress for review,” Hannah noted. “Even if the administration works to avoid such oversight, there’s no doubt that a lot of members in both the House and Senate will have serious issues with an agreement that appears to reward Iran for nothing more than a temporary pause in a program that has been pursued in complete defiance of its international obligations.”

Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said President Joe Biden “risks undermining American support for the war in Ukraine by asking Congress to approve billions of taxpayer dollars to support Kyiv while offering Iran billions of dollars to help resupply Moscow.”

“In light of Tehran’s assassination threats against US officials and ongoing protests inside Iran, the administration will likely face stiff bipartisan resistance to this plan,” he said.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.