Nu­clear Ul­ti­ma­tum De­ferred

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By Nathan Guttman Wash­ing­ton Con­tact Nathan Guttman at guttman@for­ or on Twit­ter, @nathanguttman

Iran looks likely to re­main in limbo.

When nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions with Iran be­gan, pol­icy wonks and pro-Is­rael ad­vo­cates marked July 20 on their cal­en­dars. It was the dead­line set for reach­ing a his­toric agree­ment be­tween Tehran and the global pow­ers, af­ter which Iran would ei­ther re­join the com­mu­nity of na­tions or face an es­ca­la­tion that could lead to mil­i­tary ac­tion down the road.

But now the dead­line is set to come and go, without leav­ing much of a mark.

Gaps be­tween Iran and the group of six na­tions it is ne­go­ti­at­ing with are too large to over­come by then, but progress made in six months of ne­go­ti­a­tions is too sig­nif­i­cant to give up. And so the fin­ish line is largely ex­pected to move once again, without much op­po­si­tion be­ing heard from Wash­ing­ton, Tehran — or even Jerusalem.

“Ex­ten­sion is the most likely out­come,” said Gary Samore, who un­til 2013 served as Pres­i­dent Obama’s top ad­viser on nu­clear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion. Samore, now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for re­search at Har­vard Univer­sity’s Belfer Cen­ter for Science and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, ex­plained that push­ing back the dead­line is the most rea­son­able course of ac­tion for Iran and for the United States.

“Both sides would pre­fer the cur­rent sta­tus quo than a re­turn to the pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tion when we were steadily in­creas­ing sanc­tions and Iran was in­creas­ing en­rich­ment and it ap­peared to be head­ing to a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion,” Samore added.

Six months have passed since the in­terim nu­clear agree­ment was signed, and its ex­pected ex­ten­sion gives pause to take toll of what ne­go­ti­a­tions have yielded so far. While an agree­ment is still elu­sive, all par­ties have learned im­por­tant dur­ing this in­terim pe­riod: Iran dis­cov­ered that the path to open­ing world mar­kets and to end­ing its in­ter­na­tional seclusion will be longer than it had ex­pected; Amer­ica has learned that even un­der crip­pling eco­nomic pres­sure, Iran can still run a tough bar­gain, and Is­rael, ini­tially fear­ful of the in­terim agree­ment, which it viewed as a step to­ward the com­plete col­lapse of a care­fully struc­tured sanc­tions regime, found out that Iran, by and large, can stick to a deal and that the world is not rush­ing to un­lock Iran’s ring of iso­la­tion.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been re­luc­tant to ad­mit that the ini­tial six months have passed without a breakthrough. As the July 20 dead­line ap­proaches, the United States has in­creased pres­sure, sig­nal­ing to Iran that it should not count on an ex­ten­sion of the in­terim agree­ment and that it would be bet­ter off show­ing up at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble with will­ing­ness to com­pro­mise.

“An ex­ten­sion is by no means au­to­matic,” said a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial brief­ing re­porters on the sta­tus of talks on July 3. The of­fi­cial ar­gued that meet­ing the dead­line is “not im­pos­si­ble” but it was up to Tehran to demon­strate flex­i­bil­ity. “This is not a ne­go­ti­a­tion about two par­ties meet­ing each other half­way,“the of­fi­cial said.

But as the clock ticks to­ward the dead­line, the gaps re­main siglessons nif­i­cant, most vis­i­bly on is­sues re­lat­ing to Iran’s abil­ity to en­rich ura­nium af­ter a deal is signed. Tehran, ac­cord­ing to press re­ports based on sources from both sides, in­sists on main­tain­ing its ex­ist­ing stock­pile of en­riched ura­nium and keep­ing thou­sands of cen­trifuges that would be able to pro­duce more low-level en­riched ura­nium. The United States and its part­ners have in­sisted on re­duc­ing the ex­ist­ing stock­pile of en­riched ura­nium and lim­it­ing the num­ber of op­er­a­tive cen­trifuges to sev­eral hun­dred, a num­ber that will al­low en­rich­ment for re­search and en­ergy uses but will keep Iran at least a year away from ac­quir­ing enough nu­clear ma­te­rial to build a bomb.

This gap has placed Is­rael much closer to the United States than when ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan. The Is­raeli govern­ment still in­sists that only a zero en­rich­ment deal could be ac­cept­able. And while the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has never agreed to this de­mand, it is now clear that Wash­ing­ton’s po­si­tion on this is­sue is much closer to that of Jerusalem than it is to Tehran’s stand­point.

The in­terim deal, in ret­ro­spect, also drove po­si­tions of Obama’s and Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s govern­ment closer, as Is­rael grad­u­ally eased its pub­lic and pri­vate cam­paign against the short-term deal af­ter be­ing re­as­sured that it did not lead to the crum­bling of the sanc­tions regime and that it in fact slowed down Iran’s race to the bomb. “Is­raelis have con­cluded that the in­terim agree­ment is work­ing,” Samore said, adding that af­ter speak­ing with Is­raeli of­fi­cials, “it was clear to me that the Is­raeli govern­ment would be quite com­fort­able with an ex­ten­sion of the in­terim agree­ment.”

Pro-Is­rael ad­vo­cacy groups have also ad­justed their tone and are now fo­cus­ing on ac­tions that would give Congress more of a say in ap­prov­ing the fi­nal agree­ment, once reached. The Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee has been lob­by­ing for a wa­tered­down sanc­tions bill in Se­nate that would sus­pend im­ple­men­ta­tion of new sanc­tions for at least an­other year in or­der to give ne­go­ti­a­tions a chance. It also backs calls to re­quire the ad­min­is­tra­tion to bring any fi­nal agree­ment to Congress for ap­proval. From the Ira­nian stand­point, talks with the West, while pro­vid­ing some short-term re­lief, were also dis­ap­point­ing. “What the Ira­ni­ans want and need is the abil­ity to deal with the world,” said Suzanne Maloney, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion’s Sa­ban Cen­ter for Mid­dle East Pol­icy and a for­mer State Depart­ment of­fi­cial. Speak­ing at a July 8 panel dis­cus­sion at the United States In­sti­tute Of Peace, Maloney ex­plained that

‘This is not a ne­go­ti­a­tion about two par­ties meet­ing each other half­way.’

“there’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween what the United States con­sid­ers to be a tol­er­a­ble re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pe­riod and what the Ira­ni­ans are look­ing to get out of this deal.” Iran would like to see a quick tran­si­tion, she said, from be­ing os­tra­cized by the in­ter­na­tional busi­ness com­mu­nity to be­com­ing once again a trade part­ner.

“There won’t be a flood of busi­ness to Tehran on day one,” added El­iz­a­beth Rosen­berg, a for­mer Trea­sury Depart­ment se­nior ad­viser who is now with the Cen­ter for A New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity. She added that even if an agree­ment is reached and some sanc­tions are lifted, the busi­ness com­mu­nity would demon­strate “a lot of cau­tion” be­fore re­new­ing in­vest­ments in Iran.

In the talks, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the United States and its part­ners made clear to the Ira­ni­ans that sanc­tion re­lief would be spread out over decades and that part of the sanc­tions im­posed on Iran by Congress have to do with its hu­man rights record and its sup­port for ter­ror, and there­fore these mea­sures are un­likely to be re­voked af­ter a nu­clear deal is reached.

In prac­ti­cal po­lit­i­cal terms, it is un­likely that Congress will over­turn any sanc­tions bill in the short term. “The pres­i­dent is likely to sus­pend sanc­tions through waivers,” said Ken­neth Katz­man, a Mid­dle East spe­cial­ist at the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice. These six-month waivers will al­low re­lief from sanc­tions without chang­ing the law or of­fi­cially re­vok­ing the mea­sures. In the longer term, Congress could be will­ing to let sanc­tions ex­pire or to change ex­ist­ing laws, but that will hap­pen only if law­mak­ers are as­sured that the deal is fi­nal and that it has re­solved the Ira­nian nu­clear is­sue once and for all. “If it doesn’t com­pletely take the Ira­nian nu­clear weapons off the ta­ble, there will be more skep­ti­cism,” Katz­man warned.


Hop­ing To Be­come In­ter­na­tional Trade Part­ner: Has­san Rouhani is the pres­i­dent of Iran.


An­tic­i­pat­ing Sta­tus Quo: Gary Samore was a top ad­vi­sor on nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion.

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