Iran deal: Diplomatic coup or potential disaster?

Even before it went into effect, the interim deal reached between Iran and the world powers effectively split the Washington political scene

Joyce Karam

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Even before it went into effect, the interim deal reached between Iran and the world powers in a pre-dawn ceremony in Geneva on Sunday, effectively split the Washington political scene. While some hail the deal as a major breakthrough for the Barack Obama administration, others see the concessions from Iran as “minimal” and if extended could be “disastrous for the region.”

The six-months agreement promising Iran $7 billion dollars in relief from sanctions in exchange for limiting its nuclear activities, is “a huge diplomatic coup for the Obama administration” says Karim Sadjapour, a senior Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He sees in the deal a double win for Obama ensuring “his two overarching goals vis-a-vis Iran: don’t allow them to get the bomb, and don’t bomb them.” Sadjapour does not see the U.S. and Iran becoming allies anytime soon due to enormous levels of mistrust, but stresses that their “enmity is not in the strategic interests of either country and has to come to an end.”

His views on the deal are not shared by Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who sees in the accord as a case whereby world powers “utilized maximum moment of leverage against Iran to achieve significant but still minimal, short-term and reversible concessions.” He tells Al Arabiya News that the world powers “convinced themselves, without ever testing the proposition, that Iran would not agree to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring a full, if temporary, suspension of all enrichment activities.” The deal instead “trades an extension of the breakout time in the near-term for a certainty that Iran will retain significant, perhaps, unlimited enrichment in the long-term.”

Regional Implications

In the near term, Sadjapour does not see in this interim agreement a game changer for the Middle East. Regional countries voicing anxiety over the current rapprochement “should take a deep breath” he says. A regional rebalancing act will have to wait in his opinions for “an Iranian leadership which consistently puts national interests before ideological interests but I don’t think we’ve reached that stage yet.”

The fate of the deal and its impact on the region appears to be in the hands of the supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei and whether “he is interested in a broader rapprochement with the United States, or merely a nuclear detente” says Sadjapour. Khamenei has “not shown real signs of the interest in a broad rapprochement but he’s in a difficult spot as there is now significant momentum and the Iranian population has their hopes and expectations raised.“

The U.S. and its partners are embarking on intense period of negotiations with Iran towards a larger and comprehensive agreement in six months. A goal that would “be exponentially more difficult” than this deal says Satloff. The failure to reach it, could mean renewing the current deal for another six months. Satloff calls that outcome “disastrous” as it would suggest to everyone in the Middle East “that the temporary is becoming permanent.” It would be a “breach in the wall of international sanctions” he adds and “would have signaled Iran’s return to the community of nations while still leaving the bulk of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact.”

Reaching a final deal “will resemble an ultra-marathon through minefields,” says Sadjapour, one where by both countries have to overcome differences on enrichment and navigate decades-old regional anxieties towards Tehran. Many in the Middle East have already “begun to evaluate whether the balance of leverage has begun to shift from the United States to Iran,” according to Satloff.

While Satloff sees the “U.S.-Israel relationship entering a totally new and uncharted world -- a cold war in which these traditional partners are in deep and profound disagreement on issues fundamental to both,” Sadjapour insists that Israel’s interest and security is a major point of contention between Washington and Tehran. Above all he says “Israel has no better friend in the world than America and no worse adversary than Iran.”


Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.