Iran deal: Obama has issues at home

Iranian and Western officials have extended the deadline for a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme as the sides inched closer to an agreement on outstanding issues. The sides agree that these issues must be resolved before a final deal can be clinched. 

While Iran faces no difficulties with an extension, the Obama administration, which is determined to secure an agreement, seeks to conclude negotiations by July 9 as after that date, the Congress, where anti-Iran Republicans predominate would have 60 rather than 30 days to consider and muster opposition to the deal in spite of overwhelming the United States public support for it.

Attitudes in Iran mirror, to a certain extent, those in the US.  Iran’s government, civil society, Republican Guards, and the people favour an agreement that would end sanctions but place severe constraints on the country’s nuclear programme and subject facilities to rigorous inspection by teams from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

While Iranian President Hassan Rohani and his close associates can claim credit for the progress achieved in the talks with the US, the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany, this would not have happened if he had not enjoyed the support of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has overridden hard line conservatives who oppose an agreement.

Iranian civil society is eager for a deal because it could end the country’s isolation and end the punitive sanctions regime that has severely harmed the economy and damaged the oil sector, Iran’s main source of revenue. The US-based Iran Human Rights organisation argues in a 34-page report that the failure to reach an accord would end in “economic disaster, increased political and cultural repression, and possibly war.”

The report cites an opinion survey which shows that 71 per cent of the respondents expect economic benefits from an ending of sanctions while 61 per cent believe Rohani would be strengthened and so, he could effect essential reforms.

The Republican Guards officers have expressed support for an agreement which would lift sanctions on the corps’ extensive business interests, including defence production, construction, and oil, which earn billions of dollars annually.

Iranian citizens depend on an agreement to end embargoes which have starved them of jobs, goods, and essential medical supplies.  Iran’s economy would have grown by 20 per cent in recent years if sanctions had not been imposed.

As divorced from the public as is the US Congress, the Iranian Majlis voted to ban an IAEA access to military and sensitive non-nuclear sites, documents on Iran’s past nuclear activities, and scientists.  The bill also demands the total lifting of sanctions. It grants the IAEA teams the right to carry out conventional inspections of nuclear sites. Khamenei agrees with these conditions but could block the legislation if he deems the deal acceptable.

The US negotiators, including Secretary of State John Kerry, continue to insist that sanctions can be lifted only after Iran “addresses” the IAEA concerns over its past record by handing over documents on Iran’s reported efforts, terminated in 2003, to make nuclear weapons. By doing so, Iran would have to admit that it had a nuclear weapons programme, which would amount to admission that Tehran had violated the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits the manufacture of nuclear arms.

Khamenei fatwa
Tehran contends that it did not conduct research on weapons and has no documents to transfer to the IAEA. “Our programme always has been – and always will be – exclusively peaceful,” stated Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.  His assertion is in line with the religious ruling, or fatwa, issued by Khamenei who declared in 2003 that Islam forbids the production, stockpiling and use of all weapons of mass destruction.

Although eager for documentation, IAEA director Yukia Amano has not been as demanding as the Obama administration. He said that full disclosure need not be essential for a deal. The Obama administration, however, has to contend with the Republican-majority Congress and Israel which continue to insist on access to Iran’s pre-2003 programme.

Their aim, of course, is to sink any deal, whatever its content or intentions. They argue that Tehran cannot be trusted to implement the terms of an agreement and will, once sanctions are lifted, covertly resume efforts to build bombs with material allocated to electricity generation.

The US and the European advocates argue the agreement will include provisions mandating the resumption of sanctions if Iran fails to honour its commitments. Furthermore, it is expected that if the US Congress blocks a deal, European and Asian countries, eager to trade with Iran and, in particular, to win lucrative contracts for upgrading Iran’s oil sector, will breach sanctions and the tight regime, largely imposed by the US, will collapse.

Advocates also hold that a nuclear deal will enable the US and its Western allies to cooperate overtly with Iran in the war against the IS in Syria and Iraq, al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadi groups.

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