Each negotiating party has made equivalent efforts to present the apparent agreement as a victory on their terms. But the Obama administration has faced considerable criticism from the US Congress and from Israel and other traditional US allies throughout the negotiating process, and this does not appear to be letting up significantly in the wake of the framework deal.
The Iranian negotiators have reportedly faced some push-back from hardliners in their government, as well. But although Business Recorder notes that some such opposition is expected to continue, it also points out that the deal also has the backing of many of the theocracy’s leading clerics.
Some Iranian hardliners seemingly oppose any deal as an example of outreach to Iran’s enemies in the West, and Business Recorder quotes Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as saying that the deal signals “new cooperation with the world – both in the nuclear sphere and other areas,” and that this would “open a new page” for the Islamic Republic.
But at the same time that this sentiment explains the ire of hardliners, it also explains the popular support that the announcement has reportedly garnered in Iran, where much of the population supported Rouhani’s bid for the presidency in 2013 on promises of change and reform. While no such change has been seen in the nation’s domestic policies, with the rate of executions increasing and new instances of political repression accumulating constantly, the apparent progress toward a nuclear accord keeps hope alive for change in Iran’s position with respect to the rest of the world.
On the other hand, Agence France-Presse quotes Alireza Nader of the RAND Corporation as saying that even if there is a final nuclear agreement by its deadline of June 30, the US and Iran will continue to be adversaries, “especially if there are no major domestic changes in Iran.” And indeed, given the overall news that has come out of Iran in recent weeks and months, it seems quite likely that there will not be.
The various commentaries on the framework agreement on Friday suggested that it remains unclear whether President Obama expects this agreement to turn into broader rapprochement between the two countries. AFP asserts that Obama has his eye on the “grand prize” of general reconciliation, and it quotes the Carnegie Center’s Joseph Bahout as saying, “In Barack Obama’s head, there’s this fantasy of a grand bargain, an alliance with Iran, and of reconstructing the architecture of the region for a paradigm shift.” He went on to assert that Iran will take the emerging nuclear deal, but will make no changes in other areas of its policy.
But the same article quotes Obama himself as saying that the US will remain vigilant in dealing with other areas of Iran policy, including Tehran’s sponsorship of international terrorism and its extension of its own military and political reach further into the region.
Regardless of how well this reflects Obama’s overall intentions, it is clear that this message of vigilance is the one that he will be delivering to the US Congress in the coming days, as well as to other parties that have the potential to stand in the way of finalizing the nuclear accord. The president has already begun a major blitz to sell Congress on the framework agreement.
According to CNN, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said on Friday, “In just the last 24 hours we’ve had everybody from the President to the White House Chief of Staff, to officials at the Department of State and the Department of Defense briefing members of Congress to make sure they understand exactly why we believe this is a framework agreement that puts us on the path of making sure that we’re preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and putting in place inspections to verify that that’s actually the case.”
Obama spoke directly to Speaker of the House of Representative John Boehner, who was quick to express skepticism following the announcement of the framework agreement, indicating that Congress as a whole would push the president for details.
While the Democratic Party has shown more willingness to give Obama room to work autonomously, both parties in Congress are committed to a harder line on Iran than the president, and are angling for congressional oversight over any agreement. A bill requiring such oversight will be voted on in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee soon after Congress returns form a two-week recess. It will face a presidential veto, but Congress has a solid chance of overriding that veto.
It is understandable why Boehner and his colleagues would have outstanding concerns about the emerging deal in the wake of Thursday’s accord. WND points out that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif commented on the agreement by suggesting that Tehran had evaded large-scale constraints on its current work. “We will continue enriching (uranium); we will continue research and development,” he said.
Writing in Politico, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh summarized the deal as it currently stands by saying that it leaves Iran with a large enrichment capacity, allows Iran to resume and dramatically expand all of its activities after ten years, says nothing about Iran’s ballistic missile stockpiles, and robs any verification process of the historical context that would be provided by requiring Iran to account for past military dimensions of its nuclear work.
These, Takeyh says, are all problems with the emerging deal, which presently falls short of being a better alternative than keeping pressure on Iran through continued economic sanctions. WND adds that it is unclear whether Thursday’s agreement promises Iran any near-term sanctions relief, before Tehran’s cooperation with the deal is verifiably demonstrated. This uncertainty was cited by Boehner as his most immediate concern. The House Speaker also suggested that if there was such relief, it would be based on naïve expectations that Iran would not use the resulting boost to its economy in order to further destabilize the Middle East region.
As evidenced by Rouhani’s remarks about a “new page” in relations with the world, Iran is trying to present the emerging deal in exactly the opposite light as Boehner. The same can be said of Iran’s regional proxies. Reuters reported on Friday that the Syrian foreign ministry had issued a statement in response to the framework announcement, in which it claimed that the diplomatic breakthrough was the result of Iranian efforts to ease international tensions.
Of course, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad has been propped up almost single-handedly by Tehran, with at least one former Syrian military official plainly stating that Assad had sold the country to the Iranians in return for his political survival. Iranian influence has been credited with extending the Syrian Civil War and fomenting the rise of ISIL there when it had been expected that the Assad regime would fall relatively quickly to moderate rebel groups.
This and Iran’s similar activities in Iraq and Yemen belie the notion of Iranian avoidance of international turmoil. So too does Iran’s behavior in the nuclear negotiations, which were complicated at the eleventh hour by new Iranian demands, including its withdrawal of a former agreement to ship enriched uranium out of the country and its insistence on keeping centrifuges at the highly fortified Fordo facility.
No doubt the linkage of these two issues – Iran’s regional behavior and its behavior in the negotiations – helps to explain Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the pursuit of a final deal along the lines of the terms agreed on Thursday would “increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond.”
Netanyahu delivered this criticism to President Obama during a phone call that her received from the US executive within hours of the initial announcement. On Friday, Netanyahu went on to convene a special weekend meeting with his cabinet and officials from Israeli intelligence and security agencies, in order to discuss how to respond to the latest developments in the nuclear issue.
The Times of Israel indicated that there was broad-based agreement across the Israeli political spectrum about the need to keep up pressure on the issue in light of Thursday’s agreement. But different leading figures expressed somewhat different emphasis in their remarks, with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog indicating that the final deal must take more aggressive measures to roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in order to be deemed acceptable.
Meanwhile, Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid said only that the detailed agreement must guarantee extensive verification methods. This reflects the shared expectation among many critics of the Iranian regime that attempts at cheating are practically certain unless that cheating is made impossible, or nearly impossible. This sentiment was specifically expressed by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson, who implied skepticism about the framework agreement, saying that Canada would judge Iran “by its actions, not its words,” according to the Canadian Press.
“Every diplomatic measure must be taken to ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapons capability,” Nicholson added as he announced that Canada would be contributing three million dollars to the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to support its role in guaranteeing Iranian compliance with the deal once it takes shape.
In his article in Politico, Ray Takeyh claimed that arms control violations throughout history have rarely been prosecuted quickly or effectively, suggesting that this is something that a final agreement must take care to emphasize.
For his part, Netanyahu expressed general dissatisfaction with the framework agreement and went on to highlight the severity of the threat posed by Tehran, insisting that any final agreement should include the stated acceptance of Israel’s right to exist, according to Today Online. Netanyahu urged Western policymakers to take pursue an alternative to the deal currently taking shape, namely “standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved.”
Ray Takeyh and John Boehner, among others, have expressed the view that such a strategy is still viable. Both have indicated that the current framework agreement is problematic, but fixable. Points regarding verification and sanctions relief have not been specified yet, and nothing in the framework agreement is technically binding, so the possibility still exists for more pressure to be exerted, and for Iran to respond with a better deal.
This may remain the case until the June 30 deadline, even if short term sanctions relief turns out to be a part of the preliminary agreement. The Financial Times points out that this much is indicated by the fact that oil prices have rebounded slightly after dipping in response to the news of progress toward a nuclear accord that would potentially flood the market with formerly sanctioned Iranian oil. This potentiality is very much real, but still some ways off. The Financial Times states that Iran is still stuck selling much of its oil on the grey market, and that major export increases are still years away.
As long as it will take time for Iran’s economy to rebound in the midst of ongoing diplomacy, it will still be possible for pressure to be exerted on that economy in pursuit of greater diplomatic cooperation.