Accomplishing a great deal of work may be a difficult prospect for negotiators under current conditions. There seems to be little agreement about what has already been agreed as part of the framework that was announced on April 2, and a final agreement is due on June 30, with little chance of extending that deadline for what would be the third time.
In his article, Baker recommends that the Obama administration sit down with its five negotiating partners and come to a consensus about what the minimum terms are that all parties will accept from Iran. Baker goes on to say that presenting this to Iran as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition would constitute not only the best opportunity for success in the short period of time remaining, but also a means of safeguarding against the oft-mentioned danger that the US might be blamed for the failure of diplomacy, thereby diminishing international support for further sanctions.
Baker highlights four issues that still have to be addressed in order to create an acceptable deal. The framework agreement has not answered the question of how Iran’s compliance will be demonstrated and tested, and it has not established the mechanism by which sanctions will snap back into place if Iran is found not to be in compliance.
Baker also points out that it has not yet been established whether Iran will be required to provide the transparency that it has thus far denied to the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding the past military dimensions of its nuclear work. The Tower points out that the IAEA held talks with Iran earlier in the week, resulting in no new solutions. Iran has been repeatedly criticized for stonewalling an ongoing IAEA probe, which has generated answers to only one of twelve central questions in over a year.
Finally, Baker reminds readers that the US and Iran have been at odds over the actual content of the framework agreement on the topic of, among other things, whether sanctions against the Islamic Republic will be phased out after demonstrating compliance or whether they will be removed en masse immediately after the signing of a deal. Iran has repeatedly declared the latter scenario to be a prerequisite for any deal, but many American policymakers feel that this position is a non-starter.
However, President Obama himself has declined to rule out such a scenario, according to the Associated Press. When asked about the issue at a press conference, Obama explained that he did not want to speak prematurely about politically complicated aspects of the ongoing discussions, and that he considered his central concern to be guaranteeing the “snap-back” provisions that would establish consequences for Iranian violations after the fact.
But many Western commentators have expressed the opinion that snap-back is an unrealistic expectation because any promotion of economic growth in the Islamic Republic will make it more attractive to foreign investors – a possible situation that even some European governments may be loath to reverse. The prospect of an economically and politically empowered Iran has been attached to this week’s announcement that Russia intends to further expand relations between the two countries by fulfilling a 2007 arms sale agreement that will provide Iran will 800 million dollars’ worth of advanced missile technology.
Obama commented on this development in the same press conference, effectively brushing it off by saying that he was surprised Russia, an increasingly staunch Iran ally, had not resolved to make the shipment even before the conclusion of this month’s framework nuclear agreement. The Times of Israel pointed out on Friday that General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US military’s Join Chiefs of Staff expressed a similar lack of concern about the Russia arms shipment, saying that the S-300 missile system would not affect the US’s ability to carry out military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities if this were to become necessary.
But others have concluded that the advanced missiles might be sufficient to deter an Israeli strike, and this is significant because, as the Israeli government has made abundantly clear, it has a much lower threshold for when such a strike would be necessary. Given this difference of opinion, the Israelis have been noticeably skeptical of what they regard as a casual approach by the Obama administration to Iran policy.
Al Jazeera points out that Israel may thus exhibit a much more active response to Russia’s plans and may judge those plans to invalidate an unspoken agreement to not bolster each other’s enemies. Israel had previous supplied weapons to Russian enemies George and Ukraine, and it may do so again. But Al Jazeera criticizes the logic behind this possible response, alleging that the S-300 systems will not be a threat to Iran because they are unlikely to be shipped out of Iran to any of the anti-Israeli terrorist groups that it supports.
On the other hand, any Israeli action in this regard might be directed not simply at containing specific, direct threats against Israel but also at putting limits on the general threat posed by a more politically and economically influential Iran. This motivation may further explain Israel’s apparent opposition to any Iran nuclear deal, as well its contradiction of the Obama administration’s casual attitude toward matters like the S-300 missile system.
The Tower pointed out on Friday that the nuclear deal that is currently taking shape stands to enrich Iran by as much as 420 billion dollars over the course of a 15-year period. This is 50 billion dollars more than Iran’s current GDP, and it is many times more than the GDPs of nations already subject to Iranian influence, like Syria and Yemen. The Tower notes that irrespective of the nuclear issue, this prospect adds greatly to the fear that Iran will be in a position to expand that influence in the coming months and years, presumably further contributing to the sectarian conflicts that it has helped to foster in places like Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.
Israel is by no means alone in opposing this situation. In fact, Hot Air points out that the Obama administration’s seemingly weak stance on Iran has contributed to an “alliance of convenience” between the Jewish state and various Sunni powers in the region. As the latest indicator of this, Hot Air points out that Tawfik Okasha, a popular Egyptian television host, urged Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities and suggested that Egypt would provide material support for such an operation.
Egypt is already part of a coalition also consisting of leading Arab states like Saudi Arabia and tasked with providing a military challenge to regional threats from terrorist groups to Tehran. The US is providing logistical support to Arab coalition bombings in Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels have seized power and brought about a dramatic growth in sectarian conflict. But it remains unclear what stance the Obama administration will take on the coalition’s broader goals.
This is something that will be discussed next month if members of the Gulf Cooperation Council accept President Obama’s invitation to meet with him at the White House on May 13 and to participate in a retreat at Camp David the following day. JNS reports that the move is apparently a response to Arab skepticism about the emerging nuclear deal. But the meeting may also present an opportunity for those Arab powers to present their concerns directly and to encourage the formation of a mutual strategy to limit Iranian influence without sabotaging the Obama administration’s overall plans.