Sep 21st 2017

Saving the Iran Nuclear Deal

by Ana Palacio

Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State and a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University.


MADRID – There is an old rule of thumb in diplomacy: if you cannot reach agreement on an issue, expand the scope of the discussion. Today, the United States may be set to turn this approach on its head, broadening the discussion to destroy an already-existing agreement. And not just any agreement: President Donald Trump’s administration wants to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal. But while Trump described that deal as an “embarrassment” in his address to the United Nations, the international community’s agreement with Iran is actually one of the most important diplomatic achievements of the last decade.

Iran has always been a tough nut to crack in international negotiations. With power distributed among a seemingly endless array of forces and figures, which often contradict or even compete with one another, the negotiating environment is difficult to understand, much less navigate.

In this context, reaching a “grand bargain” that would address the full range of Iran’s bad behavior – not just its nuclear and missile programs, but also its support for international terrorism, regional destabilization, and human-rights violations – is unrealistic. To get anywhere, the subject matter must be kept as narrow and discrete as possible.

This was the approach of the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The resulting Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a misnomer. It does not address nuclear-related weapons programs or guarantee inspections in military installations. And most of its provisions will be in effect for only ten years.

But the JCPOA was not supposed to cover everything. Instead, it was meant to take the existential threat of Iran’s nuclear program off the table long enough to build a foundation for more constructive engagement that could bring progress on other fronts. The deal was a beginning, not an end.

Yet, before long, the diplomatic window that the JCPOA opened may be slammed shut. Under US law, the president is required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran has not breached the agreement, and that the continued suspension of sanctions is “vital to the national security interests” of the US. In early September, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that to torpedo the deal, Trump could simply argue that Iran’s other misdeeds were damaging enough to merit sanctions. The point of the JCPOA was to take the nuclear issue off the table, in order to enable the parties to address everything else. If the US puts everything else back on the table all at once, the deal will collapse.

In that case, getting Iran back to the negotiating table would be virtually impossible. The US alone would be unable to impose sufficiently powerful sanctions on Iran to secure that outcome, while the European Union – the primary architect of the JCPOA – would be highly unlikely to re-impose sanctions on an Iran that is complying with its commitments. And one can forget about Russia and China getting back on board.

The implications of such an outcome would extend beyond Iran. The JCPOA is a rare recent example of international cooperation, and demonstrates the viability of a broad-based sanctions regime. In this sense, it provided a major boost to the global rules-based order – upon which Europe, in particular, depends. By bringing about its demise, the Trump administration could severely undermine future multilateral initiatives.

From a regional perspective, the end of the JCPOA would hasten America’s marginalization in the Middle East. The Iran deal was a key element of President Barack Obama’s effort to extricate the US from the region, as it promised to neutralize one of the main sources of instability necessitating continued US attention. But, far from restoring the status quo ante, killing the deal would leave America with little credibility in Middle Eastern affairs.

In the short term, the strategic vacuum would be filled partly by Russia, which has already seized on America’s gradual withdrawal from the region to strengthen its foothold there. Having established itself as a pivotal power through its military involvement in Syria, Russia is now using its energy resources to expand its influence further – with far-reaching geopolitical and security implications.

Already, the state-controlled oil company Rosneft has struck deals in Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Libya, while its counterpart Zarubezhneft has been pursuing oil and gas development projects in Iran. Meanwhile, the Russian gas giant Gazprom has forged ahead with construction of the so-called TurkStream pipeline. Add to that the pending Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will link Russia directly to Germany, and the EU’s prospects for diversifying its energy supplies – critical to its energy security – are fading fast.

In the longer run, the absence of the US from the Middle East will probably serve to prolong the chaos and destruction that has defined this decade, with intensifying – and increasingly overwhelming – repercussions for Europe. To be sure, there is an alternative scenario: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey could reach a tacit (or even active) agreement regarding influence in the region, to the exclusion of outside parties. But, given longstanding hostilities in the region, the emergence of such an order is far from guaranteed.

Then there is the nuclear component of the challenge. The JCPOA offered a model for counter-proliferation efforts, which included the decoupling of nuclear power – a safe and reliable energy source – from proliferation of nuclear weapons. If this model is rejected after the fact by the Trump administration, its future application elsewhere will become much more difficult, if not impossible.

European leaders recognize the JCPOA’s importance. Now they must take action to save it. To that end, they should establish a relationship with Iran that goes beyond junkets to facilitate European investment or promote the planned energy partnership, and that addresses other outstanding issues, such as ballistic missiles, terrorism, and human rights.

Success will require tough talk, conditionality, and, yes, more sanctions. Trump is right to say that more must be done to rein in Iran. But it is the JCPOA that should serve as the platform for such action. That was the entire point.


Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State and a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org




To subscribe to Facts and Arts' weekly newsletter, please click here.

To follow Facts & Arts' Editor, Olli Raade, on Twitter, please click here.

If you have something to say that you want to say on Facts & Arts, please

Write to the Editor, or write a comment in the comments section.


 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "The ideas behind MMT [=Modern monetary theory] were mainly developed in the 1970s, notably by Warren Mosler, an American investment fund manager, who is also credited with doing much to popularise it. However, there are many threads that can be traced further back, for instance to an early 20th-century group called the chartalists, who were interested in explaining why currencies had value. These days, prominent supporters of MMT include L Randall Wray, who teaches regular courses on the theory at Bard college in Hudson, New York state. Another academic, Stephanie Kelton, has gained the ear of politicians such as Bernie Sanders and, more recently, Democrat US presidential candidate Joe Biden, providing theoretical justification for expanding government spending."
Jul 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "So we are left with herd immunity and viable treatments as the world’s only realistic near term solution. Sweden has been roundly criticized and shunned by its neighbors for embracing herd immunity at the outset of the pandemic. It has paid a price for having done so based on accelerated infection and death rates. But while the jury will remain out for some time to come about the wisdom of having done so, Sweden may prove to have been ahead of the curve in its approach. Herd immunity is an option that should be seriously considered by the world’s governments, for a safe and effective vaccine could be many years away, and may not be achieved at all. PICTURE: Daniel Wagner.
Jul 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "The war on Yemen begun in 2015 by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has been a failure militarily and a vast drain on resources that, in the age of Covid-19, neither country can any longer afford. Not only has the war been Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam, it has inflicted untold human damage on Yemenis. UNICEF has a new report out warning that millions of Yemeni children are on the brink of starvation. Yemen, with a population of about 28 million (think Texas), is one of the poorest countries in the world. Saudi Arabia, with a citizen population of some 21 million, is one of the richest. The United Arab Emirates, with a citizen population of a little over 1 million, is likewise very rich. Both have waged a high-tech air war on the indigenous Yemeni Houthis, but in the past year have pitched their Sunni proxies against one another."
Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."