The sudden turning of Iran, from a named enemy of the West, into a cooperative friend (almost), is enough to give one whiplash. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s distrust of the United States loomed over nuclear talks for years. Just days before the agreement was signed, there were energetic, “death to Israel” and “death to America” demonstrations across Iran. Perhaps they were just an offering to disappointed hard-liners. Today, the Iranian leadership is smiling for cameras, celebrating a new era of hope and friendship with the West. Comparisons are being made with the US-Chinese détente forty years ago and the end of the Cold War. But when the heady optimism fades, the question will be asked: Did the US just give Iran the bomb, or did they usher in a new era of peace?

Iran is almost unstoppable in its quest for power and growth. Even though heavy sanctions decreased its oil revenues to a drip, it was outperforming its neighbouring countries on all social and economic indicators. They have a strong military and have been at the frontline of the fight with ISIS in Iraq. They had no incentive to give up the bomb. All they could offer was some measure of transparency. The reason Iran agreed to negotiate at all is that international sanctions were really hurting. Snapping those sanctions back into place is the US’s best threat to scare Iran it into compliance. In order to do that, the US needs to make sure the deal holds together and has international support. The best way the US could sabotage this is by failing to adhere to the deal itself. This is what opponents in Congress, as well as some Republican presidential candidates are advocating. They would like the US to break its agreement, as the deal does not put an end to the Iranian bomb.

While the US can sugar coat the situation all it likes, it had no choice but to make a deal, any deal after a framework was agreed to in April. If the US were to really walk away from the deal now, then the threat of sanctions would fall apart. The other countries that signed on to this deal would blame the US for its collapse and probably refuse to impose new sanctions. Iran, meanwhile, would be free from the conditions of the deal and many of the sanctions. This in a nutshell is why a peace deal has been cobbled together when chants of “death to America” can still be heard in the background. What remains to be seen is if they stay in the background. If Iran is indeed as pragmatic as it seems, they will maintain peace with the West and their ambitions will have a regional focus.