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Nuclear Deal Tentatively Finalized

Many outlets are also presenting this deal as the conclusion of a twelve year-long dispute that began shortly after the initial revelation of key details of the Iranian nuclear program and its potential to move the Islamic Republic toward nuclear weapons capability. Much debate will continue to rage over whether that capability has effectively been cut off, but the Obama administration insists that the provisions of the deal put Iran ten years away from a nuclear weapon, as well as giving the West time to react if Iran tries to accelerate its work.

The US Congress will now have 60 days to consider whether it agrees with this assessment. Given the extreme skepticism expressed by both parties and especially by congressional Republicans throughout the process, it seems likely that a majority of the legislature will retain the belief that the agreement falls far short of fulfilling initial Western demands. This is especially likely in the wake of a surprising last-minute concession from Western negotiators.

As the talks entered their final stages, Iranian diplomats modified their demands with the request that arms embargos be lifted on sales of conventional weapons and ballistic missiles to Iran. US officials were initially adamant that these tangentially-related restrictions would remain in place. But the Associated Press reports that Western diplomats compromised this point by allowing for conventional weapons exchanges to be opened up after five years, with ballistic missile sales being permitted three years further on.

What’s more, these restrictions could be lifted even earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran has upheld its commitments and is not pursuing any additional nuclear weapons work. But critics of the deal have long objected that the emerging provisions did not provide sufficient grounds for verification of Iran’s cooperation. And the final agreement does not seem to change that.

The Obama administration is touting Iran’s acceptance of international inspectors’ access to Iranian nuclear sites – something that was defined as a red line by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But although the announced deal does soften that talking point slightly, it allows only for managed access. According to ABC News, inspections of military sites must first be approved by a committee, effectively giving Iran an opportunity to block or stall inspections of military sites that it does not want to open up to foreign scrutiny. This is very far from the “anytime, anywhere” inspections that the more hardline Western policymakers insisted would be necessary to verify Iran’s acceptance of any deal.

The existence of any unresolved questions about Iranian cooperation is sure to enhance critics’ worries about the effects of the financial windfall that Iran achieves with this deal. Critics worry not only that sanctions relief may allow Iran to channel more money into hidden nuclear work, but also that it will use those finances for the further promotion of sectarian conflicts that have remained undiminished in the midst of the negotiations.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the Obama administration has been increasingly public about its hopes that the Iranian regime would grow more moderate in the wake of a nuclear accord. But Iranian hardliners have apparently reacted to this sentiment by ramping up their belligerent gestures toward the West. For instance, an Iranian newspaper affiliated with the supreme leader published an editorial last month referring to the destruction of the White House.

Meanwhile, members and supporters of Iranian resistance groups like the National Council of Resistance of Iran have repeatedly rejected the notion of the regime’s forthcoming moderation. While these individuals and the Obama administration all acknowledge that there is a large proportion of the Iranian populace that wants to move in a different direction, opponents of the regime emphasize that these voices have been as suppressed during the nuclear talks as they had been beforehand.

The objections of the Iranian resistance, the Israeli government, and other opponents of the Iranian regime can be expected to influence the consideration of this agreement by the US Congress. President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation that seeks to interfere with the implementation of the deal, and opinions vary as to whether Congress will be capable of securing a veto-proof majority for such action. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is actively working against this possibility.

But the 60-day review period in the US is not the only potential obstacle to implementation of the agreement. The deal must also be approved by the Iranian supreme leader and his hardline associates. And it remains to be seen whether the announced agreement among all negotiating parties will hold up to scrutiny.

CNN notes that the final text of the agreement has yet to be released, but the Associated Press points out that Iran has already released a fact sheet that selectively presents Western concessions to suggest that the deal is an unequivocal Iranian victory. This is reflective of the discord that remained within the talks after the announcement of a framework agreement on April 2. While that agreement ostensibly reconciled all but the technical details of the issue, the American and Iranian fact sheets on the agreement quickly came into conflict on basic points.

ABC News claims that most aspects of that April 2 framework remain in place with the final draft of the deal. But it remains to be seen whether this refers to the framework agreement as understood by the Americans or the Iranians. For instance, the AP notes that Iran still claims all economic sanctions will be lifted immediately. But ABC reports that sanctions will be removed only after Iran has demonstrated that it is upholding its commitments. And CNN adds that the newly announced agreement still fails to specify the mechanisms by which those sanctions will be removed, as well as how they would “snap back” in the event of Iranian cheating.