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The Iran deal will be concrete, despite Congressional opposition Open in fullscreen

Said Arikat

The Iran deal will be concrete, despite Congressional opposition

The deal is the result of years of diplomatic work between former adversaries [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 July, 2015

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Analysis: The Iran nuclear deal now faces a tough test to win domestic US approval, but the experts are lining up to endorse a victory for diplomacy.

A deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, seems imminent.

The agreement would see Tehran end its alleged ambitions for nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting the economic sanctions that have strangled Iran for decades.

Quite possibly, by the time this article is published, the Iranian threat that has for so long been propagated by the West as forebodingly looming will have dissipated, and the rehabilitation of Iran into the fold of the community of nations with which the West is willing to do business will have begun.

By all accounts, US negotiators, Iran and the five other nations neared a deal on Sunday that would lift some international sanctions on Iran in return for stiff curbs on its nuclear programme.

The deal is a good thing for the West, for Iran and for Iran's neighbours.

It may not be good for Israel or Israeli politicians, such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - who feels, by signing a deal with Iran, "the world is taking away his most beloved toy" as Haaretz put it.

     Western bellicosity and Israeli threats to wage war on Iran were matched by the hawkish rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmidinejad.

For the rest of the world, however, any time diplomacy prevails over aggression is a cause for celebration, and a moment to pause and reflect on where else this model of talks - that led to this historic breakthrough - could be replicated.

The negotiations launched in November of 2013, known as the Geneva Accord and the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), seemed more tangible once Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in June 2013 - and the smart, suave and worldly, yet modest Javad Zarif was named as foreign minister after an impressive tenure as Tehran's ambassador to the United Nations.

Prior to that, attempts to negotiate a deal with Iran went nowhere - Western bellicosity and Israeli threats to wage war on Iran were matched by the hawkish rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmidinejad, who thrived on making statements that appealed to the conservative base of Iran's clerical class.

Rouhani, who had served as his country's nuclear negotiator, had run for elections on a platform promising constructive engagement with the international community in pursuit of lifting the harsh economic sanctions that have straight-jacketed Iran.

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The UN Security Council had passed UNSC Resolution 1737 on July 31, 2006, which demanded that Iran halt all uranium enrichment activities within 60 days - and then imposed suffocating sanctions in December of that year.

The move came in response to reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, regarding Iran's alleged non-compliance with its safeguards agreement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The potential for talks' success was first given momentum when US President Barack Obama made the bold move of opening a back channel to the Iranians in March 2013, which in turn led to several secret bilateral meetings in Oman.

The deadline for a deal had been set for June 30, 2015, after the framework agreement was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in April 2014.

But June 30came and went, and the deadline was extended - until July 7, then July 10, then July 13, then July 14, in a desperate race to wrap up talks.

     If it lives up to the framework... it will be a very good deal. An historic deal. A major victory for US security
- Joseph Cirincione

According to knowledgeable sources, on Tuesday, July 7, Obama - who has had to contend with an increasingly hostile AIPAC and its supporters in Congress - finally gave up on the full-steam-ahead approach.

Obama reportedly called Kerry in Vienna and told him, via a secure teleconference, to slow down on signing the deal; that the White House could not budge on the issue of unfettered inspections of military facilities.

A frustrated Javad Zarif briefly lost his customary cool and tongue-lashed his Western interlocutors, accusing them of aiding "Saddam Hussein's regime" in developing weapons of mass destruction.

In Washington the following day, the Israel lobby seemed less panicky, and more optimistic of torpedoing the talks by aggressively accelerating its pressure on Capitol Hill and flooding every available space with adverts listing the sins of the deal.

They lined up scores of politicians, talking heads and ideologues to explain why the coming deal with Iran must be opposed.

The back and forth would continue on Thursday and Friday as the third deadline passed, with conflicting projections on the deal, but in their last prime-time hurrah on the Sunday talk shows, the deal's opponents fell far short of the hoped knockout blow they had practiced for.

By and large, Washington remained standing behind the deal - as nuclear policy experts overwhelmingly favoured a deal that would shrink and contain Iran's nuclear programme.

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"We do not yet know all the details of the deal, but if it lives up to the framework agreement reached on April 2, it will be a very good deal. An historic deal. A major victory for US security and the security of our allies," said Joseph Cirincione, author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late.

"This is the view of the large majority of national security experts, former government officials, technical nuclear experts and former military and diplomatic leaders," he said.

"There is an overwhelming consensus among non-proliferation, nuclear policy, and national security experts that a negotiated accord is the best, and likely the only, way to ensure that Iran never builds a nuclear weapon."

Cirincione cited a bipartisan group of more than 50 former national security and military leaders - including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisers Samuel Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft - who signed a letter in April applauding negotiators for the framework agreement and urging Congress to refrain from impeding the talks.

"Unfortunately, you would never know this if you relied on congressional hearings or most media coverage of the negotiations," said Cirincione.

"For example, in the past 18 months, Congress has staged 21 public hearings on the Iran agreement, calling 41 witnesses. Of these, four have been witnesses from the administration while 36 came from non-governmental organisations. Of the outside witnesses, an overwhelming 28 were clear critics of the Iran agreement, and only seven could be called supportive. That is a ratio of four to one, critics to supporters."

But all appears to be going Obama's way, at least as far as the deal is concerned.

By the end of Monday, when it became clear that an announcement was nigh, AIPAC was quietly pondering its next step, and calculating the damage that the Iran deal has had on US relations with Israel.

According to Eli Lake and Josh Rogen of Bloomberg View, Obama has assigned former speaker Nancy Pelosi to lead the upcoming battle in Congress.

Pelosi had accused Netanyahu of insulting the American people when he spoke before a joint session of Congress last march.

"Now Pelosi is expected to be the firewall the White House will need to prevent a two-thirds, veto-proof majority in the House to disapprove of a final Iran deal, staving off political humiliation for the lame-duck president," wrote Lake and Rogen.

Once the White House gets the deal and submits it to Congress, lawmakers will have 60 days to review its contents, annexes and any secret appendices.

The Republican leadership in both chambers of Congress will then decide whether to hold a vote to approve or to disapprove of the deal. With almost all Republicans expected to oppose any deal, the real fight will be among the Democrats.

However, every serious analyst in Washington knows that an Obama veto will be sustained, with opponents of deal unable to overturn the presidential veto.

The deal will be cast in concrete.

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