A preliminary deal has been reached between the six world powers (known as the P5+1: the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China) and Iran after the second self-imposed deadline in the marathon nuclear talks was missed. The deadline for the first phase of the final deal was originally March 31. The major purpose of this self-imposed deadline appeared to be nothing more than testing the political willingness of both sides to continue with the nuclear negotiations.
The preliminary deal appears to be a win-win deal for President Rowhani and President Obama. President Rowhani’s nuclear team can argue that the Islamic Republic scored a victory by maintaining its right to enrich uranium and maintain its nuclear sites (including the ones in Arak, Natanz and the reactor Fordow), keeping them operational, according to the deal.
As Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif said: “None of those measures require closing any of our facilities. The proud people of Iran would never accept that." He also added that the underground Fordow site will maintain its centrifuges. In addition, the preliminary deal suggests that some major sanctions can be lifted as soon as the final nuclear deal is signed in June.
It is crucial to point out that Iran’s nuclear negotiating team consists of sophisticated diplomats, American-educated, and extensively-experienced members who learned critical lessons from their failure in previous nuclear talks under the former Iranian administration.
President Obama will make the argument that he has ensured that Iran will be one year away from obtaining an atomic bomb. The State Department indicated that Iran will not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for the duration of this period. Iran will enrich uranium at one nuclear facility; Natanz, limit its activities at Arak heavy water reactor and transfer its Fordow reactor to a technology and research center.
It is critical to understand that a final deal will not remove Iran’s possibility to obtain nuclear weapons permanently. The deals are temporarily-based agreements. Iran can walk away from the term of the deal at its wish.
In addition, the nuclear deal fails to address the effectiveness, rigorousness, and technicalities of the inspection regime, billions of dollars being spent on Iran’s ballistic missile program which might be part of the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program, as well as Iran’s laboratories or companies linked to producing nuclear-related materials. While these elements are crucial, President Obama will attempt to undermine their significant.
Iran’s growing power in the region through its proxies is as threatening to the stability of the region as a nuclear-state Iran.
The Obama administration contends that sanctions will “snap back” if Iran violates the terms of the agreement. Nevertheless, Russia will probably oppose the automatic snapping back of sanctions due to the fact that it will undermine Moscow and veto power at the U.N. Security Council. The Russian opposition will play into the interests of Iranian leaders.
Although Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main objective is to remove the crippling sanctions against his government through reaching a nuclear deal, it is President Obama who appears to be more desperate for a deal.
Domestically speaking, the repercussions of failing the 18-month marathon nuclear talks are much more severe for President Obama and his legacy. Iran’s Supreme Leader will not encounter criticism domestically if the nuclear talks were to fail. In addition, he has always vindicated himself by playing two strategies: that he does not really trust the Americans to strike a deal, and that he is going to be lenient in allowing President Rowhani to pursue his policy.
There is going to be opposition from both inside Iran and the U.S.. Hardliners might argue that the terms of the agreement are too restrictive. The Republicans might state that the deal did not dismantle Iran’s nuclear threat completely, ensuring that Tehran does not have other undeclared facilities, leaving Iran with a path to become a nuclear state, and helping to remove economic sanctions. Nevertheless, this opposition will not likely have an impact on the direction of the nuclear talks.
Other neglected controversies
On the other hand, there has been scarce attention given to the controversial issue of the one year break-out capacity. The U.S. demands assurance that a deal will keep the Islamic Republic one year away from reaching a nuclear bomb and going full speed for nuclearization if it decided to violate the articles of the deal.
Rarely has any expert actually asked if a one year break-out time is practically adequate. Assuming that the international community and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are capable of detecting that Tehran has violated the agreement and that it is going to go for full nuclearization, can the international community get its acts together for a military response within one year? This is very doubtful considering the gaps between the West, Russia and China, as well as the economic challenges that the West is encountering.
In addition, both sides continue to discuss the phases through which the economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic will be removed. But, more fundamentally, many questions remain to be unanswered by Iranian leaders. There exist several controversial issues put forward by the IAEA regarding the military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program. According to the latest report by the IAEA, the agency has not been capable of getting full information from the Iranian leaders as well as ensuring that there are no undeclared nuclear sites operating in Iran. The question is whether the West should go ahead with removing sanctions before Iran has fully responded to the IAEA’s concerns?
In addition, one of the Obama administration’s tactics concerning the president’s strategy on Iran, is to keep the details of the talks as secretive as possible. This could be due to the fact that the administration is not confident that it will receive full support for its deal from its allies as well as the regional powers.
Iran’s Drive for regional pre-eminence
Whether a final deal is reached or not by end of June, the Islamic Republic’s power has been on the rise since the nuclear talks began in 2013. The result is that a cart blanche deal has been given to the Islamic Republic by the United States, and this has played well in Iran’s drive for regional pre-eminence.
In order to leave a “historic” nuclear “legacy” in his name, President Obama has decided to turn a blind eye to Iran’s intentions for regional dominance, Iran’s geopolitical game in supporting proxies in the region as well as Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions.
The Islamic Republic’s proxies have increasingly grown to be crucial determinant of the geopolitical chessboard of the Middle East.
President Obama is concerned that by criticizing Iran’s geopolitical game and its proxy wars in the region, he would scuttle his legacy and the nuclear talks. The Iranian leaders have also masterfully exploited the Obama administration’s determination to prioritize the nuclear talks to Iran’s regional hegemonic objectives.
Iran is a winner: With or without a deal
On the other hand, Iran has utilized the marathon nuclear talks to buy time and shield its hegemonic ambitions as well as the growing power of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ in the region.
Iranian leaders have shrewdly capitalized on the American vacuum in the region and subsequently, the Obama administration’s policy has played right into the interests and hands of the Islamic Republic.
Getting a final deal will definitely ratchet up the Islamic Republic’s economic, political power in the Middle East as well as assert more forcefully its regional hegemonic ambitions.
Nevertheless, even without a final and comprehensive deal being reached, the Islamic Republic has already taken advantage of American prioritization of the nuclear talks as well as the vacuum created by the United States' declining power and less-assertive policies in the region. Through its growing proxies, the Islamic Republic has already set its footprint in several Arab countries facing turmoil.
What the Obama administration needs is to realize is that Iran’s growing power in the region through its proxies is as threatening to the stability of the region as a nuclear-state Iran.
The current nuances and details of the deal suggest that there will likely be a “historic” final nuclear deal at the end of June, due to the fact that both sides need the deal for their national, economic, geopolitical and strategic interests. They have shown political willingness in reaching a final nuclear deal and compromise due to the aforementioned factors.
Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rafizadeh is a regular political analyst and contributor for national and international outlets including CNN, BBC TV and radio, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, RT, CCTV and Aljazeera English. He is frequently quoted in major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and he regularly writes for both academic and non-academic papers such as New York Times International, Foreign Policy, Aljazeera, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, George Washington International Review, to name a few.