Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
Sunday July 5th, 2015
In the next few days, it should become evident if there if there is going to be a nuclear agreement between Iran and the six major world powers including the United States. We may be close, but we are not there yet.
The final days of talks in Vienna have been fraught with uncertainty, not least because Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Aly Khamenei made some last minute demands that flew in the face of details that seemingly had been settled in the last round of talks that ended in April in Lausanne. Among other things he was adamant that the U.N. weapons inspectors would not be allowed into any Iranian military bases. As the nuclear facilities that the inspectors would be monitoring are often located in military sites this suggested a huge new obstacle.
Inevitably, this set off a torrent of negative commentary here, especially from those who oppose any agreement on grounds that Iran cannot be trusted. Even the august New York Times, has been somewhat wobbly in its reporting of this story of late. But it did print a nuanced analysis by Thomas Erdbrink, its reporter in Iran, on the Ayatollah’s new red lines
Erdbrink describes them as part of a “strategy of ambiguity…… which serves multiple purposes. In Iran’s opaque system the supreme leader presides over a spectrum of factions, all vying for power, influence and money. By weaving back and forth….he keeps the moderate opposition happy while placating the hard-liners in the clergy and military. ’Our leader deliberately takes ambiguous stances, because our enemies, including the United States are constantly shifting theirs,’ said Hossein Ghayyoumi, a cleric and politician who supports the nuclear deal. ’In politics, details and red lines can shift, from time to time.’ “.
To make its position abundantly clear, on Monday America warned that the agreement reached in Switzerland two months ago, must remain the basis for the final deal.
The next day President Barack Obama added his personal warning when he said, “I will walk away from the negotiations if in fact it’s a bad deal.” It may be this was also aimed at American hardliners who repeatedly accuse the president of not being tough enough in his dealings with the Iranians.
Meantime, after a day of consultations in Teheran with his key nuclear negotiators, supreme leader Khamenei, in a post on Twitter, praised his team as “trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful.”
There will inevitably be last minute twists and turns in the talks, but it is certainly not too soon to consider the two key questions: What happens if there is an agreement? And what happens if there isn’t? Each question has a short and long term answer.
Short term, if there is a deal by July 10th, President Obama has agreed to submit it to the Congress which will have 30 days to consider it. We can expect to hear a lot of bad things about it, because most Republicans and some Democrats are pre-disposed to be against it. For a number of those, that will be because Israel doesn’t like it. And we can be virtually certain, that whatever is in the agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not like it.
Therefore it is quite likely that majorities in the House and Senate will vote against any Iran nuclear agreement. Yet under the terms the president reached with Congress a few weeks ago, he retains the power to veto their opposing vote. And to sustain his veto and solidify the agreement, he will need only a third of the votes of each chamber. It is widely assumed that there will be a sufficient cushion of Democratic votes to achieve that.
Long term, the purpose of the agreement was to block Iran’s pathway to developing a nuclear weapon. If it truly does that over time, diplomacy will have precluded the need for war to achieve this objective. Meanwhile critics of the deal have substantially changed their tune. At one time, the argument was that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be an existential threat to Israel. But now there is the new argument that by relieving Iran of billions of dollars in economic sanctions, it will allow the mullahs to build up their conventional military forces and inspire a more aggressive foreign policy against Israel, and in the ongoing struggle between Sunni/Saudi Arabia and Shiite/Iran for regional supremacy.
In my view, with or without an Iran nuclear deal, those issues will continue.
So now the question, what if there is no agreement?
I predict the first thing that will happen is that, in spite of the facts, Iran will make the case that the United States is responsible for the failure. And as China and Russia- and some of the Europeans - have been chomping at the bit to get back to doing business with Iran, the International sanctions regime will collapse within a few months. U.S. sanctions alone will not be enough to dictate Iranian nuclear policy.
So that would mean that Iran would effectively be relieved of most of the onerous sanctions, which would give a positive jolt to its economy. And it would also be free of any new restraints on its nuclear program - so that it could build a bomb any time it wished. Current estimates are that without restrictions, it could do so in about three months.
As President Obama has repeatedly said all options are open to keep that from happening, we could be looking at a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities within a year. American intelligence calculates Iran would then restore those facilities in about two years. But the widespread destruction of another major Middle East war is incalculable.
There will inevitably be things about any nuclear agreement with Iran which many people will be able to fault. But would any of these uncertain alternatives be more attractive and ultimately make us safer? I would say, emphatically no.
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