On July 14, an agreement was reached that will prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from building a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. Under strict monitoring, Iran’s nuclear capability will now be limited. The agreement will delay the production of a nuclear weapon for at least 10-15 years. The deal was negotiated with Iran by the P5+1 powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. Congress has 60 days to review it. Many members are opposed to the deal, they say the U.S. negotiators gave too much away.
Congressional critics should remember that a disparate group of countries were involved in negotiating the agreement, and they all think it will work. Although many in Congress believe the U.S. team was outsmarted, the Russian, Chinese, British, French and German governments did not send a batch of gullible fools to the negotiations. These contingents probably saw through the clever ploys put forth by the Iranian negotiators.
It might be 2016 before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is able to certify that Iran has taken all the steps necessary for sanctions to be lifted. The agreement doesn’t take effect until Iran is certified by the IAEA to have met all the terms. The IAEA has to design a verification program and begin monitoring to check that Iran’s program remains peaceful. The possible military dimensions of Iran’s programs have to be baselined. The IAEA wants know how far along Iran’s weapon program is, where the work was done and the storage details.
There are protocols and mechanisms in place for dealing with potential violations. The stockpiling of enriched uranium and Iran’s ability to produce plutonium are restricted. Under the terms of the agreement, the IAEA will shift Iran back from the nuclear threshold while it manages the controls on the weapons program. Unless the IAEA verifies that Iran has settled all outstanding matters, the agreement cannot move forward.
This is an arms control agreement, not a peace treaty, so it does not resolve other issues. The agreement will unfreeze over $100 billion in Iranian assets and allow Iran to resume selling oil on world markets. The deal’s critics fear Iran will use the funds to continue to support terrorism. The Islamic Republic does have a nasty record in the region. Since 1979, it has been a staunch enemy of the United States. In Yemen, Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels. In Syria, it has spent an estimated $20 billion to prop up the government of Bashar al-Assad, helping to prolong the conflict. Iran sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, has growing influence in Iraq and is a foe of Israel.
Past mismanagement, corruption, international sanctions and a drop in oil prices have reduced Iran’s economic output and export earnings. The economic and diplomatic normalization brought by the agreement could lead to a more open political system in Iran in the long run. Since they rigged the 2009 election and smashed the resulting protests, the ruling ayatollahs have trimmed back some of their more blatant constraint policies.
Iran has the world’s fourth-largest oil and second-largest gas reserves. Iran’s population of 80 million well-educated people, mostly young, wants to reconnect with the world. As Iran’s revolution ages, the country’s internal factions continue to struggle for power. On the negative side, the Revolutionary Guards control huge chunks of Iran’s industrial economy and corruption remains a problem. There are vested interests that are fond of sanctions because they keep competition out of the market.
President Rouhani, elected in 2013, has reduced waste and helped push the nuclear agreement to finalization. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, is uneasy. He sees the reopening to the world as a national security threat because the ideas that could undermine the revolution can more easily filter in. On the other hand, Ayatollah Khamenei wants the economy to grow at 8% per year for the next five years. If the effort succeeds, in 10 years Iran could have the largest economy in the region, larger than Saudi Arabia and Turkey. To accomplish that goal, the supreme leader has to allow Iran to rejoin the global economy.
Iran’s fearsome security services have a large amount of power because they defend the revolution against all threats, real and imagined. Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tehran, has been under arrest, held by the Revolutionary Court for about a year. Among other things, he has been charged with espionage and distributing propaganda against the Islamic Republic. When arrested, he was probably digging into some of the embarrassing topics that Iran’s hardliners wish to keep under wraps.
We won’t know what effect the agreement has had for many years. So far, it has delayed a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran’s rulers appear to have acceded to the internal and external pressures to halt the nuclear weapons program. Instead of focusing on the agreement’s shortcomings, Congress should support the effort by making it clear that it fully backs the retribution that will come if Iran cheats. Time will tell if the deal works or not. In the meantime, there are a host of other issues involving Iran that remain to be addressed.