Peter D. Feaver and Eric Lorber write in Foreign Affairs that even with the extentsion of the Iran talks the real work will only begin when the deal is signed.
They start, “The extension of the deadlines for the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 adds drama to a related standoff in Washington—that between President Barack Obama and Congress—over whether and how a deal should be struck. The Obama administration, eager to reach an accord with Tehran, seems ready to agree to terms that, a few years ago, it called unacceptable. But Congress, suspecting that the president would accept even a bad deal in order to claim a foreign policy victory, is threatening to ratchet up sanctions on Iran before a settlement is reached. During the next negotiating period, this dispute will only escalate. Yet the relentless focus on the agreement itself obscures an important truth: much of the struggle to ensure the deal’s success will come after the ink is dry. A host of obstacles could undermine the future agreement’s sustainability, and even the most favourable deal reached by the end of the new extension period would represent the start of the real work rather than a victory”.
This is true of any deal of this sort but is especially true of the talks with Iran. In 2003/4 they attempted to undo an agreement that had been agreed with the same group of nations. Now however the stakes are much higher and complicated by such an array of factors that any deal, let alone its passage, would seem a miracle.
They write that “The weeks leading up to Monday’s deadline saw surging expectations that a deal would be struck, fueled by what appeared to be an orchestrated series of leaks from the U.S. administration highlighting various potential compromise arrangements. Although Secretary of State John Kerry and his European counterparts ultimately failed to reach an agreement with the Iranian negotiators, their seven-month extension of the Joint Plan of Action gives the parties more time to find a compromise. It also prolongs the bitter dispute between the White House and Congress over whether any terms would be good enough”.
They continue “the administration itself has indicated that it would be willing to settle for a lesser goal: extending Iran’s so-called breakout window—the time that it would take the country to cross the nuclear arsenal threshold—from its current estimated level of two months to up to a year. Obama’s readiness to avoid seeking congressional approval for the agreement, if necessary, only deepens legislators’ suspicions”.
As has been argued here before, President Obama is only acting this way because he views the GOP as been totally and unquestioningly beholden to Israel and its fanatical friends in Congress. If the GOP and his own party, were more reasonable then Obama would not feel the need to avoid Congress.
The result of Obama’s actions are predictable, “To prevent the president from unilaterally signing what they see as a weak deal, senators from both political parties recently reintroduced legislation that would reimpose sanctions on Iran in the case of another extension. The legislation would also require that Congress get a 15-day review period to sign off on any agreement and allow it to cut off funding for implementing the deal, effectively killing it. Although the bill’s sponsors failed to force a vote last week, they have vowed to reintroduce the legislation once Republicans have control of the Senate in January”.
They make the fundamental point that “Even if the parties do reach a settlement, the process of implementing it would give rise to more significant challenges. If Congress remains unsatisfied with the agreement’s terms, for example, it could impose additional sanctions on Iran—a move that would probably scuttle the nascent deal. In fact, the severity of today’s sanctions is the result of tough measures Congress began passing in 2010, in response to what it considered an overly conciliatory stance taken by the Obama administration. The White House has tried hard to block those sanctions, mostly unsuccessfully. It then used the possibility of additional retaliatory measures as leverage with Iran to encourage the current round of talks”.
They rightly say that “Iran, for its part, may not be so likely to cooperate after the deal is struck. Obama administration officials have argued that Iran has honoured its obligations under the interim agreement that governs the negotiations, but critics in Congress dismiss such compliance as unimpressive. Instead, they slam the interim agreement for offering significant U.S. concessions on sanctions in exchange for only modest Iranian concessions on nuclear activities. In the aftermath of a settlement, even this current level of Iranian compliance would be far from guaranteed. Given Iran’s long history of secrecy over its nuclear program, a likely scenario would involve significant domestic clashes over the true meaning of the deal’s terms and the extent to which Iran must provide information and access. If the resulting uncertainty leads Obama, Congress, or other P5+1 countries to believe that Iran is defaulting on its obligations, the bargain could fall apart”.
Therefore, in light of Iranian intransigence and Congressional opposition it is vital that Obama and his team have as much flexibility as possible during the talks.
They go on to make the point that “some of the underlying drivers of the settlement, such as the perceived importance of Iran’s support in confronting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, may shift. If the United States has less need to cooperate with Iran—or if the expected benefits of such cooperation fail to materialise—some of the props reinforcing the deal might collapse”.
While the rise of ISIS and the Iran talks are related it would be dangerous to assume that once the talks are completed the relationship reverts to status quo ante. Rather the opposite, if a deal is agreed and ratified by both parties than co-operation should be ever greater over a host of issues, notably Hezbollah, Syria and Afghanistan.
Fairly they argue that “Even if a bargain is struck by the next deadline, the likelihood that it would weather such challenges over the medium and long term is lower than many believe. As difficult as it would be to reach that milestone, the Obama administration should think of signing the agreement as the starting point on a long road, not the finish line and a foreign policy victory”.
The piece continues “the very precariousness of a future settlement might work in its favour. Because any deal will be vulnerable in its infancy, the Obama administration will have to work diligently to protect it, rallying Congress, its own agencies, and its foreign allies to see the agreement through. First, the tenuous nature of the deal would give Congress the opportunity to influence the terms of its implementation after it’s signed. For example, if Congress remains unsatisfied with Iran’s willingness to share information or grant international inspectors access to nuclear facilities, it can press the president to be more aggressive by threatening to pass harsher legislation. But Congress should be wary of pushing too hard, since adopting a maximalist position could drive a wedge between the United States and the EU and cause the sanctions regime to collapse in the same way that multilateral sanctions on Iraq collapsed in the late 1990s”.
The article ends “Success, however, depends on whether Obama and Congress can cooperate, a sight that has become rare in recent years. Since the dramatic midterm elections, Obama has grown eager to pursue portions of his agenda that do not depend on Congress. When it comes to Iran, however, he may not have that option—not if he wants this agreement to last beyond the signing ceremony”.