WASHINGTON, July 14, 2015 – The so-called P5+1 and Iran reached an agreement today advertised to curb Iran’s nuclear program while lifting sanctions and ending Iran’s isolation. As the dust begins to settle, more questions arise about what is next and what exactly the deal means.
What happens now? Both the US Congress and Iran’s Ayatollah will review the agreement reached by Iranian and world leaders in Brussels. Because the two sides did not reach an agreement by July 9, Congress will now have 60 days to review the agreement. If the two sides had reached an agreement before July 9, Congress would have to make a decision before its August recess. The way it now stands, Congress will likely vote, President Obama will veto, and Congress will attempt to override the veto, but none of that will happen until September. In reality, Congress cannot stop an agreement. Congress can vote against ending sanctions, but cannot scuttle the entire agreement. Ironically, because the agreement has lifted the lid on international isolation of Iran, if Congress votes against lifting sanctions, the US – not Iran – will be the loser.
The Ayatollah, however, could completely quash the agreement. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ultimate power in Iran. If he says no, the deal will end. Although the Ayatollah said earlier this week that the Iranian opposition to the US will continue even if an agreement is signed and has lambasted the terms of the deal, it is naïve to believe negotiations happened without his knowledge. Khamenei almost certainly has approved of the terms of the agreement, or there would be no talks.
Does the deal keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb? Despite assurances by Washington, the agreement does not prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Any pursuit of nuclear weapons is a clandestine pursuit. Iran built the Qom uranium enrichment plant under a mountain to avoid international detection, and is very much aware of how to obfuscate its efforts. If Iran wants a nuclear bomb – which all information suggests it does – it will continue that pursuit. Moreover, the current verification and oversight provisions in the agreement are not stringent enough to ensure that Iran does not finalize steps toward a weapon. It appears that under the accord, international inspectors can request access to military sites, but Iran can appeal an inspection request. If you weren’t making a bomb, why wouldn’t you want inspectors on-site?
Does this end Iran’s international isolation? One of the biggest implications of the agreement is that Iran is no longer an international pariah. Iran will now be able to sell oil on the international market, it will trade with other countries, and it will become part of the international community. By negotiating a deal, the United States and the major world powers have signaled that Iran is a legitimate international partner. This puts the United States in a tough spot. If Congress refuses to lift sanctions, Iran will still be able to trade with other countries in the world who are anxious to invest and deal with Iranian oil. That means that Iran will be just fine, while the US will lose opportunities for a newly-opened Iran.
This opening of Iran is likely Washington’s real motivation for the agreement. Given the reality of Iran’s advanced progress toward a nuclear weapons, Washington almost certainly knows it will acquire the final technology, if not now, later. However, the United States has essentially blessed Iran in the eyes of the rest of the world, which will rush to re-enter the country. Iran has oil wealth and it has a very young population. By flooding Iran with information, foreigners and access to the Internet, Washington may hope that Iran’s moderates and young people will pressure the regime for still more freedoms. Young people in Iran born after 1979 have never experienced a non-theocratic government. Washington likely hopes that providing oxygen will spark an organic movement against dictatorship.
Unfortunately, Washington refused to support the Green Revolution, a grass-roots pro-democracy movement that sprouted after the 2009 elections. It is unclear whether that chance will come again.
Will the United Nations lift the arms embargo against Iran? The UN currently has an embargo against selling weapons to Iran. The embargo, passed by the UN Security Council in December 2006, prohibits the import to and export from Iran of both technology and weapons. Although the embargo is related to Iran’s nuclear program and does not specifically deal with conventional weapons, it does ban missiles and other items and technologies that have both conventional and nuclear applications.
The UN embargo is completely separate from the P5+1 deal, but the agreement almost certainly will result in the termination of that embargo. Because the United States and other world leaders effectively “approved” Iran with the agreement, the UN almost certainly will have to terminate the embargo. Count on China and Russia to lead the push to end it.
Will Iran stop sponsoring terrorism? The United States has stated that Iran is one of the world’s most active state sponsors of terrorism. Iran provides weapons, training, funding, and safe-havens for terrorist groups around the world. The US has designated Iran a state sponsor of terror since 1984, and Iran retains that designation. As recently as July 13, the White House said it will not remove Iran from the list. The nuclear agreement, according to the White House, has nothing to do with that designation.
Rather than curbing Iran’s support for terrorist groups, the nuclear deal is likely to amplify that support. Tehran’s coffers will increase from the sale of oil and foreign investors anxious to move into Iran. This gives the regime more money to fund its pet projects, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups.
What impact will the deal have on the Iranian regime? Iran’s leaders are trumpeting the agreement as a victory, saying they made no concessions. At least in the short term, the deal strengthens the regime, giving it a political and economic victory. Lifting sanctions will significantly improve Iran’s economy and ease the pain on the Iranian people. It will also lead to new investment, new opportunities, and inclusion in the world community, with no visible pain on the part of the leadership. There are no human rights requirements tacked on to the deal, and no requirements for freedom or democracy.
It is unclear whether the influx of information and foreigners will impact the regime over the longer term. So far, Tehran has proven adept at managing information and retaining the image of the United States as The Great Satan. Tehran has shown no hesitation to arrest, convict and even execute regime opponents.
Washington’s refusal to back anti-regime protests in 2009 has soured some activists against reviving an “Iranian Spring.” Moreover, some anti-regime activists speaking on the condition of anonymity say they believe Washington’s decision to negotiate with Iran “means they support the regime.” The nuclear deal could, therefore, deflate any organic movement against the Ayatollah.
The bottom line is that while the new deal may put some controls in place, it remains to be seen whether it will have any positive impact on the ferocity of the Iranian regime or its nuclear program, or whether Tehran now holds all the cards.