Evaluating the Iran Deal

Evaluating the Iran Deal
[This is my summary of the panel on evaluating the Iran deal held at the Cato Institute in Washington DC on May 16. My notes are my paraphrase and not a verbatim transcript.]
Wendy Sherman, Senior Counselor, Albright Stonebridge Group (interviewed by Laura Rozen, Diplomatic Correspondent, Al-Monitor)
The bottom line is that Rex Tillerson certified Iran’s compliance to the Congress. The Iran deal was never meant to address all the problems we have with Iran. Other nations don’t want us to address their problems when they are not in the room, although they may may be the first to protest that we have not done so.
Contrary to popular opinion there is a lot of politics in Iran. It is not true that billions of dollars was made available to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRG). They have done a lot with a small amount of additional money. This is not just a deal between the United States and Iran. Republican support has increased somewhat lately because there is an increasing realization that we are safer now. All pathways for fissionable material has been cut off. We put in all the safeguards necessary to protect the interests of the United States. You begin a negotiation seeking everything you ever wanted and more, but that was never possible. We monitoring and strict limits on the stockpile and an increase of the time we have to react to any breakout to a year giving us plenty of time to react.
She would advise Tillerson to start by putting together a team. He will not have his senior team for at least 18 months. He hasn’t even named the assistant secretaries for the regional bureaus, let alone an undersecretary for management.  200 medical professionals put an end to the Ebola crisis because we were able to assist in the training. We did it not out of altruism but to protect the national interest.
The bill now in Congress jeopardizes the JCPOA but does almost nothing except say we’re tough.
CATO’s Emma Ashburn commented that going beyond the JCPOA will require more, not less, engagement with Iran, but the administration seems determined to push back more strongly, first, with sanctions. These may not violate the letter of the agreement, but, like Iran’s missile testing, violates the spirit. Second there are bellicose statements like “putting Iran on notice” and pushing against the Houtis in Yemen. These are symbolic acts that raise the temperature and invite Iran to respond in kind. These threaten the possibility of capitalizing on JCPOA more than the agreement itself.
Ariane Tabatabai, Visiting Assistant Professor of Security Studies at the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service commented that however campaigning candidates may feel about the agreement, it is here to stay. The impression that Iran will stand by the JCPOA while the Americans seek ways to get around it makes Iran look like the responsible party. Khamenei all along has said even if the agreement works out the U.S. will not uphold its part of the bargain. More and more people are going towards Khamenei’s view: the deal is holding, but what are we getting out of it?
Sherman noted that the detention of American citizens in Iran is an ongoing tactic of the intelligence services. No special envoy has been named to address this or to meet the families of the detained. She shares Tillerson’s desire to eliminate special envoy positions, but believes that this one is necessary. Businesses make decisions on the basis of risks and the nuclear issue was only one risk. If Iran meets the conditions before 2024 sanctions may be lifted earlier.
In response to an audience member’s skepticism that Iran would use a nuclear weapon even if it had one, Tabatabai noted that proliferation is an issue because of the possibility of accident, miscalculation, or terrorists getting a nuclear device or radioactive materials.
In response to another questioner’s skepticism that Iran’s program can be monitored, Sherman responded that the IAEA is on the ground and if they suspect there is a previously unknown site of concern there is a mechanism for forcing Iran to grant access. Even if they somehow managed to open a new secret centrifuge center uranium accountancy makes it impossible to get the uranium to it.  During the Clinton administration a deal with North Korea prevented development of nuclear weapons but Republicans didn’t like the agreement and under Bush that changed. She believes it did not endure because North Korea expected it would lead to normalization, but that we learned from the mistakes of that agreement.
In response to a suggestion that we should be limiting Iran’s missile program, Tabatabai noted that the IRGC has control of the mission program which makes it difficult for the US to negotiate over it. The missile program is viewed as a deterrent and impeding it would be a difficult sell.
Regarding Israeli attempts to sabotage the agreement, Sherman claimed that we kept Israeli well informed about the deal and that the professional technical experts believe it has enhanced their security at least for the next ten years, but that Netanyahu disagreed.
It is my conclusion that until the experts admit that there are greater state sponsors of terrorism than Iran there will remain the wisdom of prioritizing nonproliferation over terrorism will go unappreciated. The Saudi involvement in Syria and Yemen got only a single mention and Israeli terrorism got none.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

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