By now, after months of leaks following the initial agreement on April 2, the broad outlines of the deal with Iran are already familiar. If you want to know what’s in it, I recommend skipping the bombastic White House PowerPoints, which claim that all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon have been “blocked,” or the obfuscatory language of the 150-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, which reads like a document drafted by a committee of lawyers intent on papering over differences with extra-long and hard-to-follow sentences.
For a more succinct (and, on the whole, accurate) account, go right to the statement issued by Tehran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency. It notes, inter alia:
-) World powers have recognized Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and are to respect the nuclear rights of Iranian nation within international conventions…
-) The Islamic Republic of Iran is to be recognized as a nuclear technology power authorized to have peaceful nuclear programs such as complete nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment to be identified by the United Nations.
-) All unfair sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council including economic and financial sanctions on Iran are to be lifted as per the agreement and through issuance of a new resolution by the United Nations Security Council.
-) All nuclear installations and sites are to continue their work contrary to the early demands of the other party, none of them will be dismantled.
-) The policy on preventing enrichment uranium is now failed, and Iran will go ahead with its enrichment program.
-) Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, no centrifuges will be dismantled and research and development on key and advanced centrifuges such as IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, IR-8 will continue.
So far, so familiar — and dismaying. This agreement is a massive capitulation to Iran. Having started negotiations with the goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. and its European negotiating partners are winding up legitimating Iran’s status as a nuclear power in waiting.
But there are some surprises in the final language.
The most pleasant surprise is the “snapback” provision which would, in theory, at least, allow the reintroduction of sanctions should Iran violate the agreement. It had been widely feared that “snapback” would require a vote of the U.N. Security Council, which would allow Russia or China to veto such a resolution. Instead, the agreement sets up a Joint Commission — composed of the European Union, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran — to adjudicate disputes over implementation. It would only take a bare majority of the commission to reinstitute sanctions, which means that the U.S. and its European allies could re-impose sanctions even without the support of Russia and China.
This makes “snapback” no longer an impossibility — but still extremely improbable. Because once sanctions come off, the European states, in particular, will have a significant business stake in Iran that they will be loath to endanger by re-imposing sanctions.
There is also the psychological dimension to be considered: Re-imposing sanctions would be tantamount to a concession that the agreement has failed. How likely is it that the architects of the agreement will concede any such thing? In reality, it’s impossible to imagine any circumstances under which President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry (who is no doubt expecting to get a Nobel Peace Prize out of this, to match Obama’s) will ever say that Iran is in violation. Perhaps some future president who did not negotiate this deal will be more willing to make such a call — perhaps. But to do so would spark a crisis with Iran that no future president would relish. The odds are it will be easier to overlook any violations that are sure to be disputed. That’s certainly been the patterns with arms control treaties between the U.S. and Russia — repeated Russian violations tend to get swept under the carpet by both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Finally, even if the snapback were implemented sometime in the future, it wouldn’t matter that much — Iran will already have reaped the benefits of well over $100 billion of sanctions relief.
The Joint Commission mechanism that governs snapback is also in place to adjudicate disputes over access for inspectors to Iranian nuclear sites. Again, in theory, the U.S. and its European partners can compel an inspection of a suspect site notwithstanding Iranian opposition by out-voting Iran, Russia, and China. But not right away. The agreement specifies that it would take no fewer than 24 days to compel an inspection. That’s plenty of time for the Iranians to “sanitize” any suspect site so as to remove any evidence of nuclear activity, and it’s far removed from the kind of “24/7 access” that President Obama said just today that inspectors would have.
The other surprises in the agreement are even nastier. The Iranians had insisted that the agreement stick only to the nuclear issue — that’s why, for example, the Iranians did not agree as part of this deal to release the American hostages they are holding or to end their support for terrorism or their commitment to Israel’s destruction. But it turns out the agreement isn’t just limited to nuclear issues. It includes a commitment to lift the conventional arms embargo on Iran in no more than five years, and the embargo on missile sales to Iran in no more than eight years — and possibly sooner, if Iran is said to be in compliance with the nuclear accord.
Those provisions should be read in conjunction with the agreement’s promise to lift all sanctions on a long line of Iranian entities and individuals — 61 pages worth, to be exact — including a promise to lift sanctions on Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, who is to Shiite terrorism what Osama bin Laden was to Sunni terrorism. Assuming that this is in fact what the agreement says (notwithstanding whispers from some American officials that it’s another Qassem Soleimani who is benefitting), this is a stunning concession to Iran’s imperial designs in the Middle East.
What this means is that Iran will soon have more than $100 billion extra to spend not only on exporting the Iranian revolution and dominating neighboring states (Gen. Soleimani’s job) but that it will also before long be free to purchase as many weapons — even ballistic missiles — as it likes on the world market. No wonder Vladimir Putin appears to be happy: This deal is likely to become a windfall for Russian arms makers, although you can be sure that Iran will also spread its largesse to manufacturers in France and, if possible, the UK so as to give those countries an extra stake in not re-imposing sanctions.
To sum up: The agreement with Iran, even if Iran complies (which is a heroic assumption), will merely delay the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program by a few years, while giving Iran a massive boost in conventional power in the meantime. What do you think Iran’s Sunni neighbors, all of whom are terrified of Iranian power, will do in response? There is a good possibility that this agreement will set off a massive regional arms race, in both conventional and nuclear weaponry, while also leading states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to make common cause with the Islamic State as a hedge against Iranian designs in the region.
That’s assuming, of course, that the agreement is not blocked by Congress. But it’s unlikely that the Senate can muster a veto-proof majority to override the veto Obama promised to deliver of any bill that seeks to block this terrible deal. Assuming, as appears probable, that this deal is in fact implemented, future historians may well write of July 14, 2015, as the date when American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.