Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Art of a Deal

On January 16, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had fulfilled its requirements to reduce its nuclear program as specified by the agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 powers.  “Implementation Day” was celebrated by the Obama administration as a “milestone in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” – reassuring the American people that “Iran is being subjected to the most comprehensive, intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.”[1]  That Iran has complied with its commitments is an achievement for the Obama administration – and indeed, history may show that this deal is the zenith of the “Obama doctrine.”  However, Mr. Obama must tread lightly.  The hard part is really just beginning.

First, it should come as no surprise that Iran has obeyed so far.  It was politically expedient for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to see that the stipulations of the nuclear deal were met.  Mr. Rouhani was preparing for the parliamentary elections held in February and was desperate to see sanctions lifted in order to appease his moderate constituency.  It worked – allies of Rouhani won a landslide victory in Tehran.  Now that Mr. Rouhani has achieved his political and economic goal, will Tehran continue to comply with the terms of the deal? 

 Second, Iranian hardliners still rule the country and they loathe the deal.  The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, continues to lament “American imperialism” and accuses Washington of being hostile to Iran.  “Iranians may want to reform and open up economically, but what’s become clearer since the nuclear deal was signed is that culturally and socially almost nothing has changed.”[2]  If anything, Iran has become more brazen since the nuclear deal.  Iran has tested ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and extended its reach in the Middle East through its proxies.  The U.S. must be wary ­– If Iran continues to violate international law in other circumstances, should Washington expect the nuclear deal to be the exception?

Lastly, the Government Accountability Office (GOA) recently released a report that outlined concerns with the IAEA’s ability to verify Iranian compliance.  According to the report, “the IAEA may face potential challenges in monitoring and verifying Iran’s implementation of certain nuclear-related commitments in the JCPOA.”[3]  GOA cited the difficultly in detecting covert means to acquire or create a nuclear weapon and the IAEA’s lack of resources to accomplish the mission.  Without a viable means to verify that Iran is upholding the deal, the United States must rely on blind faith.  For a country that has rarely had qualms with going ‘outside the box’ to accomplish its goals, the U.S. Obama administration should remain concerned. 

The Iranian deal has been rightly celebrated as a diplomatic success and it may cement Mr. Obama’s foreign policy legacy.  However, the easy part is now over.  With access to new money and trade, the Iranian moment has come.  The future will show if Iran appreciates the art of a deal. 


[1] Obama, Barrack. “Implementation Day.” Speech to the American public, White House, Washington, D.C., January 16, 2016. https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy/iran-deal
[2] Ross, Dennis. “Why the Nuclear Deal Hasn’t Softened Iran’s Hard-Line Policies.” Politico. March 6, 2016. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/nuclear-deal-hasnt-softened-irans-hard-line-policies-213702
[3] Rubin, Jennifer. “GAO points to problems with the Iran nuclear deal.” Washington Post. February 24, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2016/02/24/gao-points-to-problems-with-the-iran-nuclear-deal/

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