7-22-15 – Iran Deal; Obama’s Tarnished Legacy?

by John J. Metzler

NEW YORK—A rhetorical tsunami followed the signing of the landmark nuclear limitation deal between Iran and six world powers in Vienna. On the one hand President Barack Obama and his tireless Secretary of State John Kerry presented a technically well-crafted plan which would supposedly keep the Iranian nuclear genie in the bottle but not dismantle the actual atomic program. On the other, deep bi-partisan skepticism in Washington greeted the deal with the nervous concern that it will not really stop Tehran’s long-term nuclear capabilities. Now the accord faces a showdown in the U.S. Congress.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly called the deal a “stunning historical mistake.”

Announcing the historic accord between the USA and the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Obama used the word “deal” 29 times!   The word deal has a far different nuance and connotation than accord or agreement. Deals are often associated with used cars while accords are better linked with diplomacy. I’m surprised given the linguistic optics, that the State Department would not have opted to use a less edgy term.

But a deal is what we have with Iran’s clerical regime. The suffocating economic and military sanctions slapped on Iran by both the United Nations Security Council and the United States will soon be lifted allowing for a massive jump-start for the moribund Iranian economy. Ending an Iranian asset freeze moreover will release over $140 billion into Tehran’s coffers. This will help both the average Iranian as well as embolden and enrich the rulers.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif played a weak hand well, getting a surprisingly good deal for the clerical regime.

Obama stated carefully that the deal was “not built on trust but verification.” Agreed. Yet such verifications are based on outside inspections. Here’s a glaring problem: international inspections of sites inside Iran are not spontaneous but must be scheduled two weeks ahead.

Echoes of Iraq in the 1990’s when UN arms inspectors played a cat-and -mouse game with Saddam?   Covering that endless exercise in the UN, I recall the maze that world powers faced   being blindsided by Baghdad despite having the support of seven Security Council resolutions.

While experts will muse over the accord’s technical parameters, the geopolitical reverberations will be felt throughout the region. Islamic Iran, a key player in funding terrorism and fueling a number of conventional conflicts such as Iraq and Yemen as well as supporting the Assad regime in Syria will now have more resources to aid its allies, mostly Shiite Moslems who are opposing the majority Sunnis.   We may see a spike in inter-Islamic tensions in the Middle East, as Iran is reinvigorated politically and ideologically.

There’s a deeper concern too. In a belated quest to battle Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Sunni Muslim terror movement, the Obama administration has quietly looked to cooperating with Iran’s Shiites as a counterforce. This empowers Iran regionally and threatens trust with Washington’s Arab allies, not to mention Israel.

Sunni Arab state reaction ironically mirrors Israel’s. Shock and deep concern over the long range implications. Arab monarchies such as the Saudis and the Gulf states, not to mention secular Egypt, are decidedly nervous. Turkey has been marginalized.

Importantly the deal was not a bilateral negotiation between the U.S. and Islamic Iran but what was called the P-5 plus Germany meaning the permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom the United States and Germany.

While those countries want to defuse Tehran’s nuclear weapons capacity, at the same time they wish to revive once cosy commercial links with Iran.

Russia and China want to reopen lucrative trade, and eventual weapons sales with Iran as do the Europeans.   French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabuis, who to his credit was particularly tough in negotiations, now is set to visit Iran in the near future. French economic ties with Iran were traditionally strong until sanctions slashed $4.4 billion in trade in 2004 down to $650 million in 2013. French commercial delegations will soon head to Tehran to talk business as will the Germans and British!

Nonetheless, the Islamic Republic of Iran remains one of the world’s most intolerant regimes fostering political and religious repression of its own people.

Will the U.S. Congress support this deeply flawed deal? No matter how Congress votes, many observers view this accord as securing Obama’s “political legacy.” It just might, but not in the way the president wishes. The Iranian mullahs may have the last laugh.


John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014)



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