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The Iran deal began with George W. Bush

Deal with it.
Deal with it.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

The just-inked Iran nuclear deal is about to become the center of a partisan political storm: Congressional Republicans are very likely to try to block its implementation, an effort President Obama has vowed to veto. But there's one fact to keep in mind here: The deal Obama just signed is the extension of an Iran policy that began under George W. Bush.

As the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko points out, the Bush administration offered to negotiate directly with Iran over its nuclear program in 2006 — the first such American offer in about 25 years. That doesn't mean Bush would have necessarily taken the exact same deal as Obama, but it's a reminder that some of the political rhetoric around the deal is exactly that — political.

Bush's strategy, according to his national security adviser Stephen Hadley, was to offer "the relaxation of existing economic sanctions and active international support for a truly peaceful civilian nuclear program" in exchange for clear limits on Iran's ability to push toward a bomb. Bush's ideal end state, in other words, looked a lot like what this deal accomplishes.

Bush and his team had resisted direct US-Iran negotiations for years before embracing them in 2006. "The Bush administration reversed its position," experts Robert Art and Patrick Cronin write, "because it had no choice." There was no way to get the Europeans, the Russians, and the Chinese on board for an international sanctions regime "unless the United States took every diplomatic step possible to engage it."

Again, that's precisely Obama's logic: Without some kind of good-faith effort at a negotiated deal, the sanctions regime Bush and Obama put together would fall apart.

There are, naturally, significant differences between the Obama and Bush negotiating strategy: In 2006, Bush insisted Iran suspend uranium enrichment before nuclear talks could begin, which Obama didn't. But the key point here is that the deal, so partisan today, follows a set of principles that even George W. Bush embraced.