U.S. and Iranian officials confirmed Thursday that no American nuclear inspectors will be permitted to enter the country’s contested nuclear site under the parameters of a deal reached with world powers this week, according to multiple statements by American and Iranian officials.
Under the tenants of the final nuclear deal reached this week in Vienna, only countries with normal diplomatic relations with Iran will be permitted to participate in inspections teams organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The revelation of this caveat has attracted concern from some analysts who maintain that only American experts can be trusted to verify that Iran is not cheating on the deal and operating clandestine nuclear facilities.
One of the administration’s key selling points is not the deal itself but what happens if there is no deal. In his news conference Wednesday, the president argued that no agreement all but means war. Administration officials have long argued that no deal would lead U.S. allies in Europe, as well as Russia and China, to walk away from sanctions, that Iran would accelerate its efforts for a weapon (achieving “breakout” status), and that Israel might strike. But selling the nuclear agreement on negative counterfactuals isn’t the most effective strategy, particularly when so many Republicans and Democrats are already opposed. The president spent a fair amount of time in the opening remarks of his news conference talking about what happens if there is no deal; this strengthens the impression that it’s hard to market the accord on its merits. His approach is designed to create a binary choice: If you oppose this accord, you bear responsibility for whatever happens. That “I know best and you’re irresponsible if you don’t agree” approach is offensive, not only to many Republicans but also to Democrats whose support the president needs to pass the deal.
Meanwhile, there is no one on the Iranian side to help sell this agreement. This isn’t a peace treaty with heroic actions and actors (certainly not on the Iranian side). The administration is in the terrible position of having to defend the agreement and, in a sense, defending Iran, because even the most articulate Iranian voices are viewed as proxies or shills of the Iranian regime. There is no Anwar Sadat, Nelson Mandela, King Hussein, or Yitzhak Rabin who can inspire and sway Congress or U.S. public opinion. One poll released Tuesday found that a majority of Americans don’t believe Iran will abide by an agreement. Iranian denunciations, particularly from hard-liners, will raise questions about Iran’s commitment to the agreement. It doesn’t help that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has not wholeheartedly endorsed the agreement and has questioned the trustworthiness of U.S. negotiators.
Last December, when I interviewed the leader of Israel’s left-leaning Labor Party, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, he said, in reference to nuclear negotiations with Iran: “I trust the Obama administration to get a good deal.”
In a telephone call with me late last night, Herzog’s message was very different. The deal just finalized in Vienna, he said, “will unleash a lion from the cage, it will have a direct influence over the balance of power in our region, it’s going to affect our borders, and it will affect the safety of my children.”…
Herzog’s militancy on the subject of the deal places the Obama administration in an uneasy position. While the administration can—and has—dismissed Netanyahu as a hysteric, the eminently reasonable Herzog, who is Secretary of State John Kerry’s dream of an Israeli peace-process partner, will find receptive ears among Democrats for his criticism.
Iran will now become the largest country to rejoin the global marketplace since the breakup of the Soviet Union. By some estimates, Iran’s economy will grow by an additional two percentage points, to more than 5 percent GDP growth, within a year. After an additional 18 months, GDP growth could reach 8 percent…
Iran has the fourth largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, estimated at 157.8 billion barrels. That’s enough to supply China for 40 years. Iran already produces 2.8 million barrels per day. The International Energy Association forecasts that an end to sanctions will allow Iran to ramp up production by an additional 600,000 to 800,000 barrels per day within months, roughly 4 percent of global output. The re-entry of Iranian oil to the global market could lower 2016 forecasts for world crude oil prices by $5-$15 per barrel. That’s good news for oil consumers but bad news for Saudi Arabia, which stands to lose significant market share in years to come as both Iran and Iraq increase production and exports…
Critics of the deal insist that more money for Iran means more problems for the Middle East. Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are already fighting via proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, but Iranian and Saudi military spending have not been comparable. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Saudi government spent more than $80 billion on defense in 2014. The U.S. Congressional Research Service has reported that Iran spent just $15 billion. As sanctions relief injects more money into the Iranian economy, this rivalry will intensify. Even under sanctions, Iran continued to fund Hezbollah operations in the region, which analysts believe cost Tehran between $60 million and $200 million a year. Tehran also found ways to funnel $1 billion to $2 billion a month to prop up the Assad regime in Syria.
The agreement provides for “snap back” sanctions, which essentially lifts the suspension of sanctions in the event of an Iranian violation. Clearly, the snap-back function is designed to deal with a major breach of an agreement, particularly because Iran explicitly states in the agreement that it will stop implementing its nuclear obligations if sanctions are re-imposed. So what happens if Iran cheats along the margins? For example, if they enrich uranium to 7% not the permitted 3.67%. The snap-back function makes little sense in this circumstance but the Joint Commission that brings together all the negotiating parties could obviously address such an issue of non-compliance. In this case, however, Iran will likely to declare it made a mistake and say it will stop doing it.
Sound fine? Not really. Given Iran’s track record, it will likely cheat along the margins to test the means of verification and see how it might be able to change the baseline—and there needs to be a penalty for each such act of non-compliance and preferably not only by the US…
As such, deterrence is what will matter. Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving toward a weapon that would trigger the use of force. Declaring that is a must even now. Proving that every transgression will produce a price will demonstrate that we mean what we say.
Whatever the motives of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in agreeing to this nuclear deal may have been, one of them was not to undermine the revolution and the hardline authoritarian nature of the state’s control. On the contrary, the purpose of the nuclear deal was to consolidate the regime’s position and to manage public expectations by creating a stronger economy and garnering more international legitimacy.
It is the cruelest of ironies that the very nuclear issue that has made Iran an outlier has now given the regime an opportunity to begin to end its international isolation. But there are other factors that limit how fast and far this process can go. The Supreme Leader, who has yet to endorse the agreement, has a need to placate hardliners and counter the rise of pro-negotiations elites such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The best way to do that is to keep at a distance from Washington, and perhaps even to demonstrate Iran’s revolutionary credentials by toughening its image. Indeed, Iran is unlikely to accommodate U.S. interests by abandoning Syrian President Bashar al Assad, or by weakening its support for Hezbollah or for Shiite Iraqi militias…
To use an arms control agreement to significantly realign U.S. policy with a repressive state that has expansionist designs in a turbulent region is a very long shot. The Iranian deal is not a peace treaty that has produced an end state with a nation that plays by internationally accepted norms and conventions. There are no Iranian heroic actors in this drama, no Sadats, Rabins, or King Husseins capable of transforming U.S. political or public attitudes about the Iranian regime. Should Iran change — should it start to show real flexibility on regional issues — that might provide an opening for real change in the bilateral relationship. Releasing the Americans the regime is holding would be a start. Right now, I wouldn’t count on it. The Middle East may be the a region of miracles, but don’t expect one in the U.S.-Iranian relationship.
As the state media under Khamenei’s control and the various other media under hardliner control seem poised to interpret the deal as a loss for Iran, Rouhani has few outlets for communicating with the people and steering the news in his favor. Even fellow reformists have seriously criticized his media team as the weakest compared to previous presidents. Since Rouhani has already raised public expectations about the deal’s immediate economic impact, the hardliners may use the actual pace of economic improvements — i.e., slow and uneven at best — to convince people outside their constituency that the agreement was not that crucial for Iran’s economy, and that what the country has gained from the talks was not worth what it gave up in the nuclear program. Perhaps sensing this potential problem, Rouhani’s team may now be trying to temper the exaggerated expectations. For example, his economic advisor Masoud Nili recently warned that “the sanctions relief would provide us with capabilities but does not make a miracle…If we do not manage the existing gap [between public expectations and reality], we may face a situation worse than when we were under sanctions.”
Hardliners are well prepared to control public opinion in the wake of the nuclear deal. They will likely refrain from congratulating Rouhani and the negotiating team for signing the agreement, instead focusing on its “irrelevance” to economic improvement — even at the risk of exacerbating public disappointment if the people do not see tangible change in their living conditions.
When President Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to discuss the nuclear deal with Iran, the American president offered the Israeli leader, who had just deemed the agreement a “historic mistake,” a consolation prize: a fattening of the already generous military aid package the United States gives Israel…
But, as in previous talks with Mr. Obama, Mr. Netanyahu refused to engage in such talk “at this juncture,” the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail the private discussions. And on Tuesday, as administration officials fanned out to make the case for the Iran agreement, one aide suggested in a phone call to Jewish and pro-Israel groups that Mr. Netanyahu had rebuffed their overtures because he believes accepting them now would be tantamount to blessing the nuclear deal, say people involved in the call who did not want to be quoted by name in describing it…
“The idea that somehow Israel would be compensated for this deal in the way the Gulf states would be is rejected by this prime minister as signaling that he is somehow silently acquiescing to it,” said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The negative optic would be, he is being bought off from his principled opposition. He sees any package now as muddying what he sees as the moral clarity of his objection.”
[T]he agreement will end up unfreezing around $150 billion in assets to a regime that has neglected its own domestic economy so it could prop up a Syrian dictator at war with his own citizens — to the tune of billions of dollars. The initial reaction from America’s traditional Middle Eastern allies has been a combination of shock and horror. Just as they see an Iran more brazen than ever, Obama is talking about the possibility of a new relationship with their archenemy…
But there’s no ignoring that the deal also leaves most of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place. After 10 years, Iran can enrich as much uranium as it likes. After 15 years it can begin enrichment at the facility it hid from the world, built into a mountain near Qom. What message does it send to the rest of the world that a country that built up an industrial-scale nuclear program (and stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency in the process) will be allowed to keep it in exchange for allowing the enhanced monitoring and inspections it previously agreed to and then reneged on 12 years earlier? It doesn’t seem like a solid foundation for Obama’s long-held dream for a world free of nuclear weapons…
Maybe the real benefit, at least from Obama’s perspective, is that the nuclear deal will pave the way for America’s full exit from the Middle East. After more than a decade of war and nation-building, the region is less stable and more dangerous than it was on 9/11. The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, who supports the deal, says what its critics are really doing is “blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent.” Perhaps we have reached the limits of what American leadership can do in that part of the world. But if that’s true, Obama should have the decency to level with us about it. This deal is not an affirmation of American leadership. It’s a recognition of American exhaustion.
On its very first page the document says the the deal “will mark a fundamental shift” in how we approach Iran and its nuclear program. You betcha; that’s one true line in the document. Once upon a time, faced with an implacable enemy, Ronald Reagan said we would do what Truman and Kennedy had done: persevere until we had won, until there was a fundamental shift in Soviet conduct or an end to the Soviet Union. Obama is instead throwing in the towel: The fundamental shift in behavior comes from the United States, not Iran. The Islamic Republic remains an implacable enemy, holding hostages, supporting terror, organizing “Death to America” marches even as its negotiators sat in Vienna and Lausanne smiling across the table at John Kerry.
Of course Obama has a theory: The main problems in world politics come from American militarism, aggression, bullying, and the like, and if we open our “clenched fists” to embrace Iran, it will respond in kind. We’ve seen the results of such policies in Russia and North Korea, and most recently in Cuba. In fact Obama’s Iran deal is based on his “Cuba model”: Hand a lifeline to a regime in deep economic trouble and ignore the population of the country and their quest for human rights and decent government. Call it a historic achievement, and above all don’t bargain hard for recompense. For, you see, in these openings to Iran and Cuba we are only righting the historical wrongs America has committed and for which we need to apologize.
People who do not live in and bicycle around in Lausanne or Vienna, but rather try to survive in Israel and the Persian Gulf countries, understand all of this. Iran has won a great victory: A weak country has outmaneuvered and outnegotiated the United States and the EU. Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will probably share a Nobel Peace Prize, which is disgraceful, but Zarif does deserve recognition for producing a far better deal for Iran than he had any right to expect. He owes a huge debt of gratitude to Barack Obama and his view of the world. For the rest of us, the rise of Iran means great danger ahead.
If you think the United States just struck a poor nuclear deal with Iran, you’re right; but if that’s your key takeaway, you’re missing the point. Iran’s nuclear program was last on the list of the Obama administration’s priorities in talking to Tehran. The administration readily caved on Iran’s nukes because it viewed the matter only as a timely pretense for achieving other cherished aims. These were: (1) preventing an Israeli attack on Iran; (2) transforming the United States into a more forgiving, less imposing power; (3) establishing diplomacy as a great American good in itself; (4) making Iran into a great regional power; and (5), ensuring the legacies of the president and secretary of state as men of vision and peace…
The Iran negotiations became Obama’s magnum opus on the theme of listening. Americans listened to Iranians dictate terms, shoot down offers, insult the United States, and threaten allies. America has been humbled indeed.
But such humility is necessary if diplomacy is to be made into a nation-defining ethos. And if we could successfully negotiate with theocratic Iran, then surely Americans would see that diplomacy could conquer all. So, for the sake of proving this abstract principle, Obama foreclosed any non-diplomatic approach to Iran before a deal was reached. As he told Tom Friedman in April, “there is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward — and that’s demonstrable.” So declared, so demonstrated.
Obama sees himself as Reagan come again. His disdain for American power, his naïveté, and his incompetence suggest Jimmy Carter as the obvious point of comparison. But Lyndon Johnson is his true soulmate. Johnson like Obama burned to use the federal government to remake the country — but unlike Obama, LBJ succeeded in changing American society with the nation’s support. Unfortunately for Obama, he lacks Johnson’s skill with Congress and his feel for the trajectory of American history. And it’s no longer 1964.
But Obama will be remembered ultimately for the Iran treaty, as Johnson is remembered for Vietnam. Like Johnson, Obama is wrapped in a warm blanket of advisers who flatter his earnest, high-school views of world politics. Like Johnson, he lives in his own delusional world in which he’s commander-in-chief not merely of the military but of the whole blessed nation. Like Johnson, he has been destroyed by the arrogance of power; and his blindness has endangered America. Unlike Johnson, he was never big enough for the job in the first place.
Iran’s Supreme Leader reeks of blood. Obama’s treaty reeks of disgrace and surrender. Vietnam did disastrous damage to America’s military, its intelligence services, and its international standing — damage compounded by Richard Nixon’s crookery and Jimmy Carter’s entire presidency. It took Ronald Reagan to repair the wreckage. Will there be a Reagan to clean up after Obama?