The Iran Nuclear Deal; Part II
Iran’s leaders broke with the past and allowed Obama’s remarks to be broadcast to the people in the streets who reacted with wild enthusiasm and honking horns. The election of President Rouhani had signaled a loosening of hard-liner rule and more contact with the outside world. The deal that would lead to lifting economic sanctions was welcome news to the millions of unemployed men and women. By April 8, a small group of conservative protestors who assembled before the parliament building were dispersed and told their demonstration was illegal. Senior government officials, clerks and Republican Guard commanders praised Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani for negotiating the nuclear deal.
In Washington, President Obama faced criticism from Republicans in Congress who insist that they have the right to review and debate the deal before it can move forward. Senator Bob Corker, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has drafted a bill and is seeking bi-partisan support. He was one of seven Republicans who did not sign the letter to the Ayatollah, and Obama hopes that they can work together to insure that the framework deal is approved by Congress. Public opinion polls in the U.S. show that a majority of the American people welcome a deal that prevents Iran from creating nuclear weapons through diplomacy rather than war. They are weary of wars in the Middle East that now stretch into fourteen years with troops in Afghanistan.
Israel’s response to the Iran deal was predictably negative. For years, the former Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, spoke at the United Nations, denied the Holocaust and called for “The Little Satan” to be “eliminated from the face of the earth.” Although Rouhani is now president, the existential threat of Iran is very real to Israel’s leaders. However, the list of changes to the Iran framework deal that they are presenting is unlikely to be adopted by the six countries who will meet again with the Iranian negotiators in the months to come. President Obama has proven by his actions that the United States is firmly committed to Israel’s safety and security. He believes that diplomacy is far better than war to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He said on April 4, “We’re not naïve … If we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies.”
On April 9 in Tehran, Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayaltollah Khamenei spoke publicly for the first time about the framework deal announced earlier that week. He addressed a large religious audience who chanted “Death to America” throughout his speech. He challenged major parts of the agreement, declaring that all economic sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any final agreement is signed, and military sites would be off limits to foreign inspectors. He said he saw no need to make an overall appraisal of the deal since no signed agreement had been reached. His words and tone were very strong throughout as he focused on the lifting of sanctions as key to any final deal. He stressed his position that, “they should be lifted all together on the day of the agreement, not six months or one year later.”
On the same day, President Rouhani was speaking to a different group in Tehran, but his words revealed a crucial difference. “We will not sign any agreement unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal.” His interpretation could extend far beyond the Ayatollah’s fixed date. It is also important to understand that Obama can suspend some of the U.S. sanctions with his pen, but others would require congressional approval. In addition, there are sanctions based on United Nations Security Council resolutions and some deal with human rights rather than nuclear development. To say the sanctions issue is complex is a vast understatement.
Although the Ayatollah said , “I have agreed to this particular instance of negotiations and I support the negotiators”, he also said, “I’m really worried as the other side is into lying and breaching promises. An example was the White House fact sheet. This came out a few hours after the negotiations and most of it was against the agreement and was wrong. They are always trying to deceive and break promises.” In contrast, he suggested that the June 30 deadline could be extended, “They might say that we have only three months left. Well, if three months becomes four months the sky won’t come falling down. Just as the other side pushed the negotiations back by seven months.”
Throughout his remarks, his deep-seated distrust of the United States was evident: “I was never optimistic about negotiating with America. But, if the other side refrains from its bad actions, this will become an experience that we can continue on other issues. If we see that once again they repeat their bad actions, it will only strengthen our experience of not trusting America.” He is motivated by the severe effects sanctions have had on Iran’s economy and stability, but his overall view of the West as the enemy has changed little since the l979 revolution.
For John Kerry and the other five foreign ministers, the months ahead appear daunting. They have to extract specific concessions from Iran’s negotiators for access and inspections by the international agency of all nuclear facilities, as well as agreement to inspection of military sites. The goal for negotiations is based on verification rather than trust. For President Obama, the challenge at home is to blunt efforts to impose strict sanctions before the June 30 deadline is reached. Senator Mark Kirk, Republican of Ilinois, who has led that effort, reacted immediately to the Ayatollah’s speech in Tehran as proof that a nuclear deal could never to reached. He said, “As each new day reveals a new disagreement, it’s increasingly clear that Iran in fact, failed to reach agreement with the United States and its partners on a political framework that addresses all the parameters of a comprehensive agreement.”
We will all learn in the months ahead whether Secretary John Kerry and President Barack Obama are successful in keeping the negotiations on track for a nuclear deal, and holding the U. S. Senate back from passing more severe sanctions on Iran. This point in history reminds one of the U.S. Senate destroying President Woodrow Wilson’s dream of The League of Nations after World War I.