NEW YORK, November 29, 2013 — The November 24 “interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program” reached between Iran and what is called p5+1 is important. And what happens now is important.
What is called p5+1 countries refers to the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany. This group also has other nicknames, especially in Europe, E3+3 for example.
The politics of the Middle East are complex, and entangle the entire world. This agreement too is complicated. As such, people with busy lives often approach this sort of news by reverting to mental habits and reactions fixed in our pre-set ideologies and biases, leaving debate on the issues to professional blatherers who spend their lives arguing and analyzing anything and everything they see.
This approach to this deal just brokered in Geneva is understandable, but what is at stake here is important enough for us to get better informed this time, learning about the strengths and weaknesses of this deal that is now with us. Much is at stake here.
Players and relationships tied to this agreement include Israel, Syria, Russia, Europe and the United States, Saudi Arabia, and even North Korea. China is remotely implicated via its role in the “6 party talks” that deal with the North Korea nuclear arms problem, and its stand with Russia contra US interests over Syria.
Historically, two things are noteworthy, 1. The unique, elegant, and noble roots of Persian history and culture, both in that they inform contemporary Iranian mentality and identity, and that they are a genuine world treasure in their own right, and 2. The addled history of US involvement in Iran, and its haunting voice in our national consciousness and recent history, which includes the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini, US hostages, Reagan, Carter, and more.
The ideological context for the pact includes political theories and doctrines of war, peace, and reconciliation that typically inform “liberal” and “conservative” approaches to foreign policy. It also includes alliances and attitudes rooted in religious and cultural parochialism writ large (Jewish-Christian cultural sphere, and Islamic cultural sphere). It also includes the liberal-conservative divide in how to interpret the ramifications of the agreement. These especially cloud the chance for sincere readers to get information on the agreement in constructive and non-biased ways.
In simplified terms, the elements of the agreement are this: In return for US and the international community easing international economic sanctions against Iran, Iran agrees to a number of modifications of its current nuclear enrichment program.
The eased sanctions are: The United States agrees to provide $6 billion to $7 billion in sanctions relief. Of this, roughly $4.2 billion would be oil revenue that has been frozen in foreign banks. Iran then agrees to ”stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent,” a level that would be sufficient for energy production but that would require further enrichment for bomb-making, to dismantle links between networks of centrifuges, degrade its near weapons-grade fuel into oxide so that it could not be readily used for military purposes, and not install any new centrifuges, nor build any new enrichment facilities.
This accord lasts six months, and is so designed to give international negotiators time to pursue a more comprehensive pact.
Among the groups that either stayed silent or instantly denounced the pact, especially important are, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and American conservatives. Only two groups in the so-called “Arab world” responded positively, Syria and Iraq.
The groups opposed to the treaty do so based on a spectrum of concerns and postures, some they hold in common, and some unique and independent from one another. Israel and Saudi Arabia have in common intense dislike and distrust of Iran, but for different reasons. American conservatives share the distrust, again for a third set of reasons, but might be driven in their hostility to the agreement more due to ideology and by the fractured state of American domestic politics than because of the agreement itself.
The one common factor to found among all opponents of the treaty is the view that enemies can be destroyed. On the practical level, there is the real concern that the treaty gives Iran time and wherewithal to progress toward the development of deliverable nuclear weapons. This is a deeply serious concern that should not be dismissed when forging our views on the agreement. Critics call the treaty a “reward for bad behavior.”
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a leading sanctions proponent, wrote in the Wall Street Journal ahead of the agreement, “Messrs Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry don’t seem to recognize that they will likely never again have as much economic leverage over Tehran as they do now.”
Those players critical of this dialogical approach to pursuing and securing compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), like us all have been stung badly by the indigestible history and pattern by which North Korea secured nuclear weapons while negotiating in bad faith for years. One must rightfully insist “never again.” Treaties like this one with Iran forever stand in the shadow of the horrible and repeated mistakes made with the persistently duplicitous North Korea.
At an essential level just higher than ideology is the strategic question: Does the treaty give Iran more time? Within hours of the 3 am signing of the treaty, Prime Minister Nethanyahu and Israeli leaders denounced the interim Iranian nuclear pact signed by the United States and five world powers as “a “historic mistake” that does little to reverse Iran’s nuclear ambitions and instead makes the world a more dangerous place.”
The opposite view, obviously the one held by President Obama, John Kerry, and the host of negotiators who labored long hours to reach the accord, is the view that dialogue and understanding swells the sea, raises all ships, and eventually leads bad actors to recognize the self-destructive outcomes of internationally disruptive, hostile, and aggressive actions.
Defenders of the treaty argue along several points, important ones being that Iran will be subject to a far more intense level of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency than any other country. The price of easing sanctions is that Iran will be put “on probation” for years. And that the treaty is for just six months, during which time Iran will be under close international scrutiny. Any misstep by Iran and the deal is off.
There is much in the way of subtle and nuanced political analysis that properly must be aired in the weeks going forward. Some include the Russia-China-Assad-Iran axis that gains greatly from the pact, the all-important quality of US-Israel relations (which the Obama administration has tended tragically to weaken throughout the time of his tenure), the Middle East matrix that pits Shiite-based political and ethnic identities and alliances against Sunni-based ones (also implicating US-Saudi Arabia relations, which too have suffered under the Obama administration), the US domestic political matrix, in which conservatives must deal with an aggressive, statist, imperial, scandal ridden president benefiting from an historical peace pact. These are only some of what needs attention.
At base though the questions we each must ask ourselves are ones of ideology, strategy, and finally practical questions. For ideology. Do we believe that it is possible to destroy a foe (in this case by economic sanctions), or do we believe that rapprochement, dialogue, and conversation better leads to the end of conflict. Our high-mindedness might say yes, but stories like North Korea make us wary. Finally practically, do the provisions of the agreement contain enough safeguards to prevent and obstruct Iran from going forward in bad faith, using their new time and return of much money to continue their militant purposes?
I say, give these six months a chance. Simultaneously be in deeper and more constant dialogue with important allies who are rightfully opposed to or wary of the accord, and finally redouble to extreme levels of diligence the provisions of the treaty that put Iran under an intense microscope for this 6 month interim period.