Iran Deal: A Game-Changer for the Middle East
Negotiators in Switzerland just won a huge victory for diplomacy
over war. Now we've got to protect it.
By Phyllis Bennis
April 03, 2015 "ICH"
- Negotiators in Lausanne, Switzerland just won a huge victory
for diplomacy over war.
first-stage negotiations resulted in the outlines of an agreement
that will significantly limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for
significant relief from crippling economic sanctions imposed by the
United States, the European Union, and the United Nations.
Both sides made major concessions, though it
appears Iran’s are far greater.
Tehran accepted that U.S. and EU sanctions will
not be lifted until after the UN’s watchdog agency verifies that
Iran has fully implemented its new nuclear obligations — which could
be years down the line. It agreed to severe cuts in its nuclear
infrastructure, including the reduction of its current 19,000
centrifuges for enriching uranium to just over 6,000.
Tehran also consented to rebuild its heavy water
reactor at Arak so that it will have no reprocessing capacity and
thus cannot produce plutonium. Its spent fuel will be exported. The
Fordow nuclear plant, moreover, will be turned into a technology
research center without fissile material. And crucially, the UN’s
International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed to conduct
In return, the United States and its partners —
the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China — agreed that the UN
resolution imposing international sanctions on Iran would be
replaced by a new resolution that would end those sanctions but
maintain some restrictions.
The framework didn’t specify whether the new
resolution would be enforceable by military force, but it did reject
an earlier demand by the United States and some of the Europeans for
a “snap-back” trigger that would automatically re-impose sanctions
if they claimed Iran wasn’t keeping its part of the bargain. Without
that, a new Security Council decision — one subject to potential
vetoes by at least Russia or China — will have to be voted on.
Additionally, while it didn’t explicitly reaffirm
Iran’s explicit rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue
“nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination,” the
agreement did acknowledge Iran’s “peaceful nuclear program” and
sought to limit, not to end, Iran’s enrichment capacity.
Most importantly for skeptics of the talks,
there’s no question that the broad parameters announced in Lausanne
would qualitatively prevent any future Iranian decision — which all
U.S. intelligence agencies still agree Iran hasn’t ever made — to
try to build a nuclear bomb.
The restrictions impose a year-long “break-out”
period, meaning it would take at least that long for Iran to even
theoretically enrich enough uranium to build a bomb. And, as my
colleague Stephen Myles at Win Without War reminds us, “The Iranians
would still have to, ya know, build a bomb, figure out a way to hide
it all from the inspectors all over their country, and convince the
international community to sit idly by without responding while they
broke the terms of a deal for one whole year.”
Reshaping the Middle East
Hardliners in both the United States and Iran
opposed the agreement, but so far it appears that the pro-war
faction in the U.S. Congress (mainly though not only Republicans)
poses a far greater threat to the survival of the accord than the
hawkish factions in Iran — especially since Ayatollah Ali Khameini,
Iran’s Supreme Leader, has continued to support the nuclear
For some of the U.S. opponents, the issue is
purely partisan. They want President Obama to fail, and they’ll
oppose anything he supports.
For many others, military intervention and regime
change remain the first choice towards Iran — Senator John McCain
already urged Israel to “go
rogue” and attack Iran. Republicans in the Senate, following
47-strong letter to Iran threatening to undermine any agreement
signed by Obama, continue to lead efforts to impose new sanctions
and to demand a congressional vote to accept or reject the
But the global potential for this agreement is far
more important than the partisan posturing of right-wing militarists
and neoconservative ideologues. If it holds — and if the final
agreement, with all its technical annexes, can be completed as
scheduled in three months — Lausanne can set the stage for an
entirely new set of diplomatic relationships and alliances in the
Indeed, the region could be significantly
transformed by an end to the decades of U.S.-Iran hostility. With
Washington and Tehran maintaining normal if not chummy diplomatic
relations, joint efforts to end the fighting in Iraq, stop the
catastrophic escalation underway in Yemen, and create a real
international diplomatic campaign to end the Syrian civil war all
become possible. A U.S. diplomatic posture that recognizes Iran as a
major regional power would make a whole set of current challenges
much easier to resolve.
Regardless of whether that kind of grand bargain
in the Middle East becomes possible, the current diplomatic
initiative must be defended.
Efforts to undermine the Lausanne agreement are
Senate Republicans are hoping to win over enough
Democrats to override Obama’s certain veto of a bill that would let
Congress vote to reject the agreement. Fortunately, Democratic
opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s
blatant campaign to
undermine the Iran negotiations has made that Republican effort
more difficult. Defense of President Obama’s diplomacy by the Black
Caucus and Progressive Caucus of Congress has pulled more Democrats
away from the anti-negotiations, pro-war position.
But at the end of the day it will be public
opinion that matters. A Washington Post poll in the last
days before the agreement found
59-percent support for a negotiated settlement — with 70 percent
of liberals, two-thirds of Democrats, and at least 60 percent of
independents and self-described “moderates” all supporting a deal.
Even Republicans — divided more or less evenly — are far more
supportive than their party’s war-boostering representatives in
What’s required now is mobilizing that public
support. That means strengthening the backbone of uncertain or
wavering members of Congress, challenging extremist anti-diplomacy
positions in the media, and most of all reminding everyone of the
consequences of failure.
In Lausanne we saw a crucial victory of diplomacy
over war. Now we’ve got to protect it.
Phyllis Bennis directs the New
Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
© 2014 Foreign Policy In Focus