Posted by Curt on 18 July, 2017 at 1:02 pm. Be the first to comment!


Elliot Kaufman:

Two years on, the Iranian nuclear deal is a failure.

Some will surely protest that this cannot be; on Monday, the Trump administration just indicated that it plans to certify Iranian compliance to Congress. But that certification does not mean what it may seem to.

It certainly does not indicate that Iran has been in perfect compliance with the deal. Iran has already exceeded its limits on uranium enrichment and production of heavy water on several occasions. Furthermore, a series of recent German intelligence reports discovered Iranian efforts to procure technology that “can be used to develop plutonium for nuclear weapons.” One report concluded there was “no evidence” of the “complete about-face in Iran’s atomic policies” that had been hoped for.

But of course there’s no evidence of that. This was the central flaw of the Iran deal: There was never any reason to suspect that the nature or aims of the Iranian regime had changed. Iran of course has scaled back its nuclear advances, but the Supreme Leader and his cronies still seek to obtain a nuclear weapon to fortify their regime, advance Iranian regional hegemony, and threaten Israel. Until this changes, the Iranians can safely be expected to use any deal to better pursue those aims. This is why it matters when H. R. McMaster, director of the National Security Council, explains that Iran has violated the spirit of the agreement.

So why does Trump plan to certify compliance? One debilitating weakness of the Iran deal is that there are no punishment mechanisms short of re-imposing sanctions, at which point Iran can reasonably argue that the deal is dead and it is free to pursue whatever nuclear advances it wants.

The deal provides a process whereby America can allege misconduct and force the U.N. Security Council to vote on a resolution. This resolution would maintain the deal’s suspension of sanctions, so any veto — including the U.S.’s own — would trigger the reestablishment of the legal basis for sanctions. But there are several hurdles to getting the sanctions to “snap back” as promised.

As Eric Lorber and Peter Feaver wrote in Foreign Policy, “An effective sanctions regime consists of a legal basis, the institutional capacity to implement the sanctions, and the political will to carry it through. This course of action only provides for the first.” Indeed, if the sanctions are rejected by Russia or opposed by European allies eager to continue trading with Iran, both of which are likely in the absence of truly flagrant Iranian violations, the sanctions regime will not be effective. It might not even get off the ground and certainly will fail to pressure Iran the way our previous sanctions regime, which took a decade to ratchet up, did. That’s why formally alleging Iranian misconduct is extremely risky: It would unleash Iran and offer only weak and disunited sanctions.

This means that incremental Iranian cheating will likely continue to go unpunished. The best we can do is remain neutral, neither certifying compliance nor alleging noncompliance. But even with this meek third route, declined by the Trump administration this time, the deal leaves us helpless to stop Iran from slowly — never radically — preparing itself to push for a nuclear weapon once the deal’s restrictions wear off in ten and 15 years.

That’s why the deal will be certified. But why is it a failure? Some might say that pushing back a confrontation with Iran by ten or 15 years is a major accomplishment. We’ve bought ourselves time, claimed the deal’s advocates, over and over again.

Philip Gordon and Richard Nephew, two of the Obama-administration officials who negotiated the Iran deal, now repeat this mantra in The Atlantic. The deal was supposed to “buy time for potential changes in Iranian politics and foreign policy,” they write. But have we actually bought ourselves time?

What if it is Iran that has been buying time, using the sanctions relief to put itself in a stronger position for an eventual confrontation? What if, at the end of the Iran deal, Iran is stronger economically, geopolitically, and domestically, while we find ourselves with less power in the region and bereft of an international sanctions coalition?

Then, you might say, we got swindled.

In 2015, the Iranians were weak. Years of sanctions had decimated the Iranian economy, putting pressure on the regime at home. Iran was also facing an impressive and unified American-led international coalition dedicated to halting its nuclear program.

By the time the deal expires, Iran will be in a position of strength. Pocketing the money from the deal and once more able to export oil, the Iranian economy is recovering. Should oil prices ever rise, expect to see a boom. Iran has also quickly re-integrated itself into the global economy. Iranian exports to Germany, for instance, rose 26 percent in 2016. Germany’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry expects trade to rise to 5 billion euros by 2020. Do you think Germany will be eager to punish Iranian cheating and re-impose sanctions? Of course not.

It will be nearly impossible to reassemble a unified international coalition against Iran in the near future. Our allies will have been coopted by Iranian oil and money. Already Iran has locked in large contracts with major American and European companies including Boeing, Airbus, Total, Peugeot, Danieli, and Saipem.

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