The Iran deal: A Critical Assessment
by Fred LaSor
Special Commentary for the National Security Forum
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini issued a joint statement in Vienna July 14 announcing a deal the New York Times said would “significantly limit Iran’s nuclear capability for a decade”. The announcement was widely welcomed because the thought of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran’s revolutionary government is troubling and because a number of countries who have honored trade sanctions with Iran up until now want to reopen commerce again.
But the ink had not dried on the document before we began to see differing interpretations of what had been agreed and what the ramifications were for Iran, for Iran’s trade partners, for Israel, for Europe, for the USA, and for inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). No matter who was commenting, consensus lacked on what had been agreed.
President Obama claimed the deal would prevent development of an Iranian nuclear bomb for at least 10 years. The Iranians said the delay was five years. “Breakout time,” the technical delay for development of a nuclear weapon, is said by American experts to be “at least a year.” Clearly, interpretations on this particular differ widely.
One indisputable point is that Iran will continue funding and supporting Islamist terrorism. Defense Secretary Carter testified this week that Iran “is likely the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.” As troubling as this is to Europe and the United States, it hits closer to home for Sunni Muslim nations, including most of Iran’s neighbors, who live daily with Iran’s deadly meddling.
The deal included a stipulation (point 34.i) that it be sent immediately to the UN Security Council for their endorsement, granted within the week, which triggered a 90 day implementation schedule. European, US and UN sanctions are thus expected to terminate around mid-October, notwithstanding Secretary Kerry’s assurances to the contrary. As for President Obama’s promise of “snap back” reimposition of sanctions, that genie will not go back in the bottle.
And now we have confirmation that the agreement is not all that was signed: at least two codicils were not included in the 159-page document Zarif and Mogherini released on Bastille Day. Kerry admits he has not read them and cannot do so. Rumors hint the side deals might include severe limitations on IAEA inspections and other matters that would likely be unacceptable to us.
Iran has said it will not start honoring the terms of the agreement before sanctions are removed, and several Republican Senators have said their 60-day review period will not begin until all the agreement – including codicils – have been delivered to Capitol Hill. A classic standoff.
Another issue, explored recently in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by David Rivkin and Lee Casey, is President Obama’s avoidance of the constitutional treaty process. They write that a deal done by executive order is not binding on individual states, (despite the wording of section xix.25) and can ultimately be undone by another executive. A treaty with Senate approval would not pose this problem, but it appears this administration and the Iranians prefer an imperfect deal done quickly.
Strong defenders of this administration are appearing on US TV this week saying the deal “is better than war,” although the two options are not mutually exclusive and the agreement remains seriously flawed. Even respected analysts insist a bad deal is better than no deal at all. Meanwhile, opponents are predicting Iran will cheat, which this agreement will not prevent. CNN’s latest poll has US public opinion running 61% against the deal.
Whichever side you are on there is no denying that President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Ayatollah Khamenei do not have a reputation for reliability or the integrity of their word. The difference between their personal assurance and that of President Reagan when he coined the slogan, “Trust but Verify”, is enormous.
President Obama has challenged his critics to come up with a better way for dealing with Teheran’s nuclear ambitions – ambitions which Iran denies, by the way. And testifying before Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry commented that the alternative to approving this deal is for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon immediately instead of ten years hence. Obama and Kerry have given us a bad agreement and call for its approval because the alternative is worse. We’ve been handed a crap sandwich with mayonnaise and assured it’s better than one without mayonnaise.
The United Nations Security Council claims we have a deal in which Iran agrees to delay processing weapons grade nuclear material for a decade. President Obama contends he can implement US participation by executive order (just as the next president could reverse it) and will veto any legislation that impedes implementation. In the meantime, Congress can refuse to approve what they have been offered, a course of action supported by growing public opinion, or they can accept it as better than the alternative. But the bottom line is, critics cannot stop this deal.
Iran’s deal with the EU/E3+3 and the UNSC will stand with US accord guaranteed by executive order no matter what Congress decides to do. Iran will follow whatever course of action they determine is in their best interest, happy with trade restored. Obama would prefer to have Congress go along with it, just as he hoped to be able to say acceptance of ObamaCare was bipartisan. The Congress should gracefully decline: having the Iran agreement enter into force by executive order alone leaves no doubt as to its parentage and simplifies reversal at a later date.
Gardnerville resident Fred LaSor retains a keen interest in international affairs since retirement from the Foreign Service in 1997. He follows developments in the Middle East and Africa closely.