Iran’s true gains from the nuclear deal

What the draft resolution means is that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are no longer barred from encroaching on Arab lands

Raghida Dergham
Raghida Dergham
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Iran has fulfilled two pillars of its fixed strategy. The first is U.S. and international recognition of the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic that imposes religion on the state, with a pledge not to provide assistance to any Iranian opposition, whether it is seeking reform or seeking to oust the regime. The second is U.S. and international recognition of Tehran as the newest member of the nuclear club, and recognition of its right to enrich uranium, with a pledge to end inspection of its nuclear activities under the title of nuclear non-proliferation when the U.N. Security Council resolution in this regard expected to come next week expires ten years later.

The third pillar of Iranian strategy is seeking to be a major regional power in the Middle East, whose demands should be taken seriously and accommodated by the United States and the international community, which is not a problem if Tehran pledges not to expand outside its territory in a bid for regional dominance. Here, in the third pillar the United States is seeking to reassure its traditional allies in the Arab region that it intends to pressure Iranian policy to allow the moderates in Iran to draft non-expansionist orientations for the new post-nuclear deal Iran, as Iran is crowned as a strategic partner for the major world powers. But wishes and hopes that the lifting of the sanctions on Iran would produce an economic revolution and social shifts in favor of the moderates against the hardliners in Iran are not enough. It is not enough either – far from it –for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to focus on the nuclear agreement’s role in boosting efforts against Islamic extremists such as ISIS while Russia continues ahead together with the Islamic Republic their support for the Syrian regime and its destruction of Syria.

The hopes of U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will not be enough if the coming months are not put to use to extract serious de-escalation on the part of Iran – during Congress’s deliberations over the deal – vis-à-vis its neighbors. There is a real opportunity to realize a qualitative shift in the relations between Iran and the world through reassuring measures in the region. Obama has the opportunity to broker the needed rapprochement and dialogue, and help establish constructive relations between the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Iran. This requires guarantees and not just wishes and hopes. Israel must have no doubt obtained guarantees as part of its strategic alliance with the United States. The Gulf countries are prepared to interact with the historic nuclear event as long as their security can be guaranteed by means of a U.S. security umbrella and as long as Iran’s quest for expansion and dominance in the region is curbed. But if the P5+1 nations ignore the needs of the Gulf nations as they celebrate the nuclear deal, they would be encouraging Saudi Arabia and others to acquire nuclear weapons and launch a nuclear arms race to establish deterrence in the Middle East – and impoverish themselves.

Iran, most certainly, entered history this week. It is being said, and this is true, that both the West and the East have bowed down to Iran. It may be said that the mullahs of Iran have decided that rescuing the Islamic Republic requires them to reshuffle the list of enemies and friends, for which reason they made the relationship with the United States a top priority. This is also true, and it could well be Iran’s finest achievement, because the relationship with the United States is an absolute priority for the Islamic Republic.

After decades-long estrangement, hostility, and sanctions, the Obama administration launched an era of normalization with the theocratic regime in Tehran. Obama has avoided upsetting the regime by not raising any issues other than the nuclear program, and by deliberately overlooking its regional violations and internal violations against human and civil rights.

What the draft resolution means is that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are no longer barred from encroaching on Arab lands

Raghida Dergham

The administration’s goal has been to avoid confrontation and pursue appeasement, in line with the desires of the American people. However, the nuclear deal signed between Obama’s administration and Iran is being met with serious concern and objection from many American segments led by many in Congress. What Obama concluded with Iran will lead to sharp American divisions, especially since the United States is on the cusp of presidential elections. Obama likes to say that there was no better alternative to the deal, but one response to him has been that the sanctions on Iran were working. Obama, by that argument, did not have to cave in to the dictates of Tehran and keep mum about its regional violations and breaches of U.N. resolutions including arms embargos that should prevent Iran from sending weapons and fighters across the border to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon.

Congress will not give its seal of approval to the nuclear deal as eagerly as the P5+1 countries did. There will be a political confrontation, but President Obama has pledged to Iran and the five other powers in the negotiations that he would use his veto power to prevent Congress from scrapping the deal.

The confrontation may not be an easy one, if Congress refuses to ratify the nuclear deal with Iran, this means that U.S. sanctions on Tehran may not be lifted. But Tehran wants those sanctions in particular to be lifted. What will be lifted whether Congress approves or not are the U.N. sanctions. This alone is an achievement worth billions of dollars, but it would remain incomplete as long as the U.S. sanctions remain in place.

What will happen at the Security Council next week when the resolution drafted by negotiators in Vienna will be approved sets a precedent on more than one level. Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was right by describing the draft resolution as "one of the most complex, most creative, and most interesting draft resolutions in the history of the United Nations." The resolutions punishing Iraq because of its nuclear and regional ambitions in the era of Saddam Hussein pale by comparison

Iranian diplomacy rushed to take advantage of the country’s return to the world stage, and invited the ambassadors of the ten U.N. Security Council member states to brief them on what happened in Vienna and explain the Iranian vision of the agreement. Iranian diplomacy decided to start its new page with the Security Council by taking the initiative even before any of the five permanent member states that have veto powers.

The U.S. ambassador Samantha Power distributed to the ambassadors of the ten U.N. Security Council states the text of the resolution that the five permanent members intend to put to a vote early next week, possibly Tuesday. The resolution is “precooked” and cannot be changed or altered in any way. Therefore, what the ten elected U.N. Security Council member states have no other option but to rubberstamp the consensus of the big five and issue a resolution that will no doubt be dubbed as historic.

The complicated resolution will consist of seven pages full of technical details, in addition to seven pages and two appendices containing the Join Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the framework agreement between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The draft resolution abolishes seven previous resolutions issued under Chapter VII imposing sanctions and restrictions on Iran. Among the resolutions that will be abolished automatically when the new resolution is passed are 1737 and 1747, which contain clauses prohibiting Iran from exporting weapons, military equipment, and troops, and imposes travel bans and asset freezes on a number of entities and persons.

The Security Council ignored Iranian violations of these two resolutions, which were adopted under the binding Chapter VII, as Tehran continued to dispatch advisers, troops, and weapons to Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and to provide rockets and funding for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Security Council turned a blind eye to protect the nuclear talks, and it is officially abolishing these resolutions even though their provisions are unrelated to the nuclear issue.

In addition, the Security Council determines, under the draft resolution, a specific date – ten years after the new resolution enters into force – for the expiry of the historic resolution. In other words, Iran will be completely liberated from the Security Council’s grip after ten years, when the Security Council will stop examining Iran’s nuclear program.

The Congress hurdle

These issues, however, will not pass easily in Congress. They must also be the subject of queries by the Arab and Gulf countries, when members of the U.S. administration will come to explain the deal and give reassurances.

Practically speaking, what the draft resolution means is that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are no longer barred from encroaching on Arab lands. It means that its ability to expand will grow because the Revolutionary Guards will be the most to benefit from the end of the sanctions and the flow of billions of dollars to accomplish its mission and impose a fait accompli.

Even if there truly is a battle in Iran between the moderates led by Hassan Rowhani and hardliners led by Qassem Soleimani, Soleimani’s faction will quickly move to achieve military victories on the ground thanks to the funds the nuclear deal will unlock. The moderates will not be able to engage in immediate confrontations with the hardliners, and any new directions the moderates adopt will come too late after the hardliners impose a fait accompli.

The exception could come however if the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei reins in Soleimani and decides to back moderates led by Rowhani as a new Iranian strategy. Such a decision would be in the interests of Iran, the region, and the world.

If the Iranian leadership acts prudently, it can take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate its wisdom by calling a serious dialogue with Gulf leaders, especially Saudi leaders, to normalize relations and open a new page. This requires reining in Soleimani and giving strong support for Rowhani’s camp.

If Iran allows by contrast to impose its dominance over Iranian decision-making and the region, which would be the biggest wastage of a historic opportunity, it would be pushing in the direction of devastating sectarian wars.

The Iranian leadership must send a strong signal to Gulf leaders, and Saudi Arabia must do the same, and send a strong signal to the Iranian leadership. This is a historic opportunity that must not be missed, whether President Obama becomes involved in it or not.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on July 17, 2015.

Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy Group. She addressed U.N. General Assembly on the World Press Freedom Day when President of The United Nations Correspondents Association for 1997 and was appointed to the Task Force on the Reorientation of Public Information by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. She moderated a roundtable of 8 Presidents and Prime Ministers for UNCTAD at Bangkok in 1991. Dergham served as Chairman of the Dag Hammarskjold Fund Board in 2005. She tweets @RaghidaDergham.

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