Monday, November 25, 2013

Iran Sanctions Deal: Good for US or not?

First off just to state the obvious. No one can see the future. One can make informed guesses about it and presume that most states will act in what they perceive to be in their best interest but that's about it. So whether the new proposed deal concerning Iran's nuclear energy program is good in the long term or not I can't say. I believe that both Iran and the US worked out a win-win situation in which both sides talked tough for domestic constituencies but really didn't offer a whole lot that was new. To the extent that Iran "won", it maintained its right as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to continue uranium enrichment. This was a red line for the Iranians.They weren't going to formally give up rights to which they were entitled by international law. And for a lot of rather obvious reasons the US didn't want to talk too much about fidelity to international law. 
Some of the agreement highlights include

  • Iran will continue to enrich uranium, but at less than 5%.
  • Higher enriched uranium will be eliminated and/or converted to non-weapons grade uses.
  • The agreement is an interim one which lasts for six months.
  • The Iranian heavy water research facility at Arak will not be activated. This wasn't supposed to happen until 2016 anyway and was behind schedule.
  • Iran will receive sanctions relief of roughly $7 billion, about half or more of which is frozen Iranian assets.

The US congress can still torpedo this deal, at least as far as the United States is concerned while Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu has been scathing in his denunciation of the deal. In a rather obvious temper tantrum and diplomatic slap in the face to the United States, Israel announced yet more settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel would like the sanctions on Iran to remain in place and be increased. It also demands removal of Iranian nuclear technology, infrastructure and know-how in toto. This last is implausible of course unless you intend to kill or lobotomize a number of Iranian scientists/physicists and engineers. The Israeli Prime Minister may be more popular in the US Congress than President Obama is right now. He has shown a previous willingness or even eagerness to leverage bi-partisan support for Israel's interests, or rather what the right-wing Netanyahu perceives as Israel's interests. It is here rather important to point out that Israel, which does have nuclear weapons and thus a nuclear weapon program is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Iran which according to the US intelligence released, does not have a nuclear weapons program, is a signatory. What happens next depends on the Congress as well as diplomats in the US and in Israel.  
“I spoke last night with President [Barack] Obama. We agreed that in the coming days an Israeli team led by the national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, will go out to discuss with the United States the permanent accord with Iran,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party.
I think it would be counterproductive for people concerned about Israel's security or Sunni vs. Shia rivalry to go to the mat over this deal. This deal doesn't change very much, doesn't last very long and certainly is not something which should lead to anyone attacking anyone else. It's not 1939 and this is not "peace in our time". It's critical to remember that Iran engaged in a long fruitless war with Iraq that more or less ended in stalemate. That would be the same Iraq that the US wiped the floor with. Israel and the US will continue to maintain conventional and nuclear weapons supremacy over Iran. This agreement is not major. It is just the equivalent of picking up the phone and talking to someone you don't like. Netanyahu has stated that Israel is not bound by any agreement. True. Israel is free to attack Iran any time it likes and place its soldiers in harm's way.  Saudi Arabia or any of the other Gulf States voicing concern can also spend their own blood and treasure if they want to.
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