President Obama announced yesterday that the United States, in conjunction with five other nations, had reached a "historic understanding" with Iran over its nuclear program. This agreement is widely being referred to as a "deal" with Iran. But it's not. Not yet, anyway.
Over at The Washington Post, Dan Drezner makes a bunch of good points about the ways that yesterday's nuclear deal with Iran could still fall apart. But the most important point he makes is just to stress, in his opening, that the "deal" everyone is talking about isn't really a deal at all. Here's Drezner:
One implicit assumption I do see in a lot, though not all, of the instant analysis is the assumption that the hard work has been done, the train has left the station, and that there will be a finished deal come June 30 — or Sept. 30, when the inevitable three-month extension is added. This is likely based on the fact that relative to expectations, the joint announcement was surprisingly detailed.
Right, what was announced yesterday was, at most, a precursor to a possible deal—an agreement to make an agreement, with some possible specifics attached. The State Department released a sheet outlining the basics, in a document titled "Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's Nuclear Program," but even those details haven't been formally codified in any way. The document is just the State Department's public summary.
As the BBC notes, the "deal" is so far "an unwritten understanding, not a formal agreement." There's yet another deadline, sure to be extended, for coming to an actual, final deal.
Put another way, the "deal" we have with Iran right now isn't a deal to do the stuff in the State Department's summary. It's a deal to make a deal to do the stuff in the State Department's summary, or something that resembles it.
That of course doesn't mean that no deal is coming, but it does mean that the terms as we understand them right now could change, and that a final, actual deal is far from certain. The deal remains, as Obama said, an "understanding," and not much more.