Playing with diplomacy: Obama’s fear of nuclear failure

One of the lengthiest diplomatic negotiations, the Iranian nuclear deal seems to be never-ending

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

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One of the lengthiest diplomatic negotiations, the Iranian nuclear deal seems to be never-ending. Two deadlines have already been missed in the last month. In addition, the negotiators missed the target of tonight Washington time set by the U.S. Congress. This would grant the Congress two months instead of 30 days to review any agreement. Nevertheless, it is crucial to point out that extensions or missing deadlines do not necessarily scuttle the nuclear talks or mean that the negotiations will fall apart.

With Russia and China being on the side of Tehran, the Islamic Republic’s attempts to obtain more concessions from the United States, France, and Germany are on the rise.

After almost two years of negotiations and meetings, the motive to reach a final nuclear deal has also intensified for Obama administration. While at the beginning of the talks, President Obama might have been searching for a lifetime legacy in the Middle East by sealing a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, currently another reason is pushing the talks- the president’s fear of his credibility being damaged if a deal is not reached.

It is evident that the current terms being negotiated will not only keep Iran’s nuclear threat intact, but will create a whole new security framework

Majid Rafizadeh

Not reaching a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic would be a strong blow to President Obama and the Democratic Party due to the considerable amount of political capital that has been spent on these marathon talks.

As a result, diplomacy is being played in order to keep dragging the nuclear talks into a seemingly never-ending process. In addition, Iran is good at this and at obtaining more points to its advantage. The Iranian leaders want the deal both ways.

Iran demands more: Political opportunism and the lifting of the arms embargo

In the eleventh hour, Iran has added another demand to the table: lifting the arms embargo on Iran as part of the U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

If the arms embargo is lifted, it will have severe repercussions on ratcheting up the conflict in Iraq and Syria, as Iran will gain access to more advanced weapons.

Iran’s demand in the final hours indicates that Iranian leaders are very skillful at diplomacy and realize President Obama’s weakness and desperation to seal a deal.

In addition, the Iranian negotiating team is capitalizing on the split in their opponent's teams as Russia and China are on the Iranian side when it comes to lifting the arms embargo. Iranian leaders will attempt to obtain the optimum amount of concessions without rushing to seal a deal.

With the lifting of the arms embargo, the deal will be much sweeter for the Iranians. Iranian leaders will have it both ways. After 10 years , if Iran do not cheat and if the ruling clerics honor their commitments (which the Islamic Republic does not have a good record of doing), Iran’s nuclear break-out capacity will shrink to zero, meaning Iran will be a nuclear power. Secondly, Iran will gain more advanced weaponry, the IRGC will solidify its economic power, and the government will receive billions of dollars.

Another issue is that, even if the six world powers and the Islamic Republic reach a “final” nuclear deal, the deal is not going to be final.

Both sides will not be signing the final agreement until a few months later. First, the U.S. Congress and Iranian domestic counterparts will review the agreement. Then, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have to inspect Iran’s nuclear activities and verify the compliance with the article of the agreement. Finally, after the IAEA verified compliance, sanctions will be lifted and both sides will sign the deal.

This method also appears to be a solution not to discredit Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s redline. Khamenei previously demanded that all sanctions should be lifted upon the signing of the final agreement. While in international diplomacy, deals are first signed and then implemented, the six world powers and the Islamic Republic are reversing the process.

Will it be a good deal? Who will be the winner?

Another crucial and lingering question is whether the potential deal will be a good one, and who the primary winner or losers will be. The response to such questions depends on the terms of the deal and the lenses through which one analyzes and examines the nuclear deal.

It is crucial to point out that the winners and losers of such a deal will not be limited to the seven countries engaged in the talks. The repercussions or positive aspects of such a deal goes beyond the gilded circle. One can argue that the winners will be primarily President Obama, the Iranian government, Shiite proxies in the region, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, President Rowhani, the Syrian government, Bashar Al-Assad, as well as Western corporations and companies.

President Obama will finally have a quiet night as he will seal and achieve his awaited dream and foreign policy legacy. President Obama and his administration will also be creating the narrative that the deal is historic and a positive one for the world.
On the other hand, the easing of sanctions on Iran will create a whole array of other winners including the IRGC, office of the supreme leader, and the Quds force (an elite branch of IRGC which operates in extraterritorial landscapes).

As the economic power of the IRGC and the Quds force increases, Iran’s Shiite proxies in the region will benefit from the trickling down of these funds. Assad can be more assured that the Islamic Republic will continue supporting his government financially, economically, militarily, and through intelligence and advisory roles.

Finally, non-state or state actors which will not benefit from the potential deal are those that are resisting the Shiite militias or are concerned with regards to the Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, it’s search for regional preeminence and supremacy and are worried about Iran’s attempts to tip the balance of power in its favor. The question of whether the deal will be a good or bad one depends on how and who looks at the deal.

When we analyze the negotiations and terms comprehensively and meticulously, it becomes evident that the current terms being negotiated will not only keep Iran’s nuclear threat intact, but it will create a whole new security framework, geopolitical concerns and nuclear arms race in the region.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of Harvard International Review, Harvard International Relations Council, 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 Dr.rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu

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