Blog post by: Edward Rickford
The proposed nuclear deal with Iran may just be the most important development of the decade, but it may also be on the verge of collapsing. When looking at the deal and all its supporters, its easy to see its potential benefits. The deal would push Iran towards a non-military nuclear program, open Iran to unprecedented inspections, and lift the crippling sanctions that have caused so much suffering. For the most part, nuclear experts have embraced the deal wholeheartedly. Energy Secretary Moniz has been an enthusiastic champion of the deal and so too has Secretary of State Kerry. While it might be tempting to dismiss this support as partisan politics, academics have also embraced the deal. These academics come from far and wide, some in not so far away Georgetown and others in far away Stanford, and represent a wide breadth of opinion. The deal has also been endorsed by a number of organizations deeply invested in the issue, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Arms Control Association. And while Iran has often been depicted as a recalcitrant rogue, news of the deal was greeted with rapturous applause in Tehran. Important as all this is, it may not be enough to save the deal.
Congress does not seem all that supportive of the deal so far. Since Obama is the most powerful elected official in the US, it supposedly follows that his support for the deal should be enough to save it but history indicates otherwise. President Wilson led an energetic campaign to convince the country to join the League of Nations and he used the bully pulpit to great effect by many accounts. However, as he did this, Senator Lodge was waging an equally energetic campaign in the Senate in order to prevent entry into the League of Nations. Senator Lodge ultimately triumphed. Yet even if no individual Senator can sabotage this deal, Congress still has ample ability to derail the deal. Ironically, members of Congress that vote to increase sanctions against Iran could end up weakening the multilateral sanctions. This is because some of our allies will not comply with the sanctions if they are increased. Moreover, Congress could just kill the deal by not complying with the directives. Once again, there is historical precedence. Many in the international community applauded President Clinton’s negotiations with North Korea but that support was notably absent in Congress. So while Clinton promised material support to North Korea in exchange for a dismantling of their nuclear program, Congress opted to not deliver that material support. The Washington Post later conceded, “North Korea got the bomb because the deal collapsed.”
Then there are the hardliners in Iran to worry about. While President Rouhani was vaulted to higher office on a moderate platform, many of his fellow officials cinched higher office by adopting hardline stances. We need only look to the Assembly of Experts for proof. In the recent March 10 elections, Ayatollah Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Yazdi both ran for the Chairman position. Rafsanjani is widely considered a pragmatist and a moderate. Yazdi on the other hand has been described by prominent media organizations such as BBC, Reuters, and Politico as a hardliner. To the surprise of many, Yazdi won. The importance of this is not merely symbolic. Sooner or later, a new Supreme Leader will need to be chosen and only the Assembly of Experts has the legal authority to decide the successor. This successor will probably be more of a hardliner than the incumbent should Yazdi control the Assembly during the succession. This is likely outcome considering recent reports about Supreme Leader Khamenei’s poor health. Keeping in mind that Khamenei has yet to endorse the deal, saying only “I neither agree nor disagree,” his successor will almost surely reject the deal if he has more of a hardline bent.
Lastly, there is the issue of Russia. President Putin has cultivated a close relationship with Iran and benefitted greatly from it. Iran often acts an intermediary on behalf of Russia and just recently signed a $20 billion oil deal with Russia. Should the Iran nuclear deal become law, Russia will almost certainly suffer for it since a thawing of relations between Iran and America could reduce Iran’s incentive to remain within Russia’s orbit of power. Yet even if Russia discounts the abstract political implications of the deal, there are concrete economic concerns that Russia must also consider. Should the sanctions be lifted, Iran will be able to sell oil on the world market again which could depress prices. Considering how much low oil prices have hurt Russia, the threat of lower prices is quite the frightening prospect. To some degree, Russia has already begun trying to sabotage the deal. Unless, of course, Putin thought that selling Iran advanced surface to air missiles because of progress in the nuclear talks would somehow make the Iran nuclear deal more palatable to the P-5 +1 countries. More likely than not, this was a ploy on Putin’s part to poison the well. And if Ukraine is any indicator, this is Russia playing nice.
Blogger bio: Edward Rickford is currently a Junior in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in History and Political Science. Edward just recently returned from a semester abroad in Ghana. He enjoys spending his free time wishing he had more free time.
Blog post by: Nicolas Pedreira
The finalization and outcome of the Iran Nuclear Agreement is uncertain without an overarching American strategy for the region. If completed, the agreement will reintegrate Iran into the global economy and allow it to vigorously pursue its regionally hegemonic objectives. If this is the case, the United States needs an encompassing policy for the region to complement the deal.
On April 2nd, Iran and the P5+1 announced they had achieved a framework for a nuclear agreement following over a decade of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. The next step for the parties involved is to consider the details of the agreement by a deadline set on June 30th. However, doing so will be easier said than done.
Particularly for the United States, finalizing an accord will be a balancing act. On one hand, the Obama administration will have to muster domestic support for any agreement with the Islamic Republic, focusing specifically on countering Congressional opposition to an agreement. While some polls indicate that a majority of Americans support the tentative deal with Iran, Congress has not been silent about its skepticism. On March 9th, forty-seven Republican senators signed a letter to Iran warning its leaders that any deal with the United States would only be an “executive agreement” and that Congress played “a significant role” in ratifying international agreements.
Skepticism is not just partisan either. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who will likely be replacing Harry Reid as leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate, made headlines this month by announcing his support for Congressional oversight of any final agreement.The Obama administration’s balancing act even extends to managing relations with other countries. On March 3
The Obama administration’s balancing act even extends to managing relations with other countries. On March 3rd, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed both chambers of Congress on the implications of any nuclear deal on Israel’s national security. In his remarks, he even specified conditions on Iranian behavior that would then make a nuclear deal possible. These included for Iran to “stop its aggression against its neighbors…stop supporting terrorism…and stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel.”
Even our generally stable relations with nations in the Persian Gulf need to be considered. When announcing the framework for a final agreement on April 2nd, President Obama simultaneously invited the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council to meet him at Camp David in the spring “to strengthen security cooperation” in the region. His outreach, meant as a sign of affirmation of American support for the GCC countries, reveals that President Obama is also concerned with keeping them in line with America’s approach to a final nuclear deal.
For Iran, the gains from a final agreement could be enormous. Sanctions applied on the Islamic Republic because of its nuclear weapons have intensified grievances on Iran’s economy. A final deal would remove sanctions against Iran, even if only gradually, and remove pressure on Iran financially. Potentially, any deal would also reintegrate Iran into the global economy and allow it to become an even more important regional and, perhaps international actor.
But the prospect of a nuclear deal with Iran raises a more important question: if completed, what will American policy be in the region? Achieving a final deal would definitely have monumental consequences for relations between the United States and Iran. But is the Obama administration foreseeing how such consequences would affect the region and are they prescribing a policy to deal with them?
Reaching a deal with Iran would indeed be a milestone. As some predict, this agreement could be a first step towards the thawing of relations between the United States and Iran, who have not had official diplomatic relations in thirty-six years—since the infamous takeover of the American embassy by student revolutionaries in 1979. If indeed, the intent of this deal is to lead to a broader opening with Iran, does the Obama administration acknowledge the regional implications of being successful?
Iran’s hegemonic ambitions are no secret. Iranian politicians often invoke the greatness of the Persian Empire as they trumpet Iran’s preeminence in the Middle East. Would a nuclear deal then embolden Iran as a regional actor? It’s likely.
Despite the pressures exerted on its economy from sanctions in recent years, the Iranian regime has not let up support for its allies in the region. In Syria, they stood and still stand by President Assad as he fights to maintain his grip on power. In Lebanon, Iran continues to financially and militarily support Hezbollah, as they have since the 1980s. Even in Yemen, the Iranian government deployed a naval flotilla to the Gulf of Aden, raising tensions with the United States regarding its intentions in the evolving Yemeni conflict.
Does the Obama administration have a coherent regional strategy prepared to deal with a renewed relationship between Iran and the United States? Since 1979, US presidents who dealt with Iran have generally delineated broad regional policies in the region. After the fall of the Shah in Iran, Carter announced his doctrine that any attempt by outside forces to control the Persian Gulf would be understood by the United States as an assault on its vital interest and would be repelled by military force, if necessary. Years later, Clinton made clear that Iraq and Iran were hostile powers in the region that would be dually contained. In Iraq, the United States would seek regime change, while it would aim for behavior change in Iran. The point being is that American policy towards a specific country in the Middle East is usually complemented by a regional strategy.
Achieving a successful final nuclear agreement with Iran would be monumental. The effects of doing so would change the dynamics of Iran’s presence in the Middle East, and would, in turn, alter American’s role in the region. Thus far, the Obama administration has not articulated its long-term intentions for the agreement or its response to the deal’s regional implications. To effectively pursue American interests in the Middle East, it would behoove President Obama to follow the example of his predecessors and establish a regional policy that would include a final nuclear agreement with Iran and its repercussions.