It has been said that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, the world will become more dangerous than at any time since the height of the Cold War. The interim accord between Iran, the five members of the UN Security Council and Germany is meant to address this fear. The accord sets specific and significant limitations on Iran’s nuclear capability and development (that is, to freeze Iran’s nuclear program) with UN inspections in return for some temporary sanction relief for the Iranian government. The six-month agreement is temporary and is intended to provide a foundation for a long-term settlement beyond this deadline.
Already, the reactions approving or opposing the deal have come forward swiftly. From U.S. media coverage, one would think that the deal is only between the U.S. and Iran, ignoring the work and commitment of the other partners. Remember Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are partners to this agreement. Sure, the Obama Administration is at the center of this high stakes game and Secretary of State John Kerry has played an instrumental role. However, it must be emphasized that the deal remains a first step involving the UN’s permanent Security Council members, and the dialogue is meant to continue.
The strongest and most strident voice opposing the accord has come from Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. This was not unexpected, and may not be totally negative. Iran must realize that this recent development is not a free pass to sanction relief as it has earned the mistrust through its past actions. Israel, however, cannot lose sight of its ultimate objective—no nuclear weapon has been developed by Iran yet, and the dialogue has begun. Israeli President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Shimon Peres, was more balanced and constructive in his reaction, saying that results will matter more than words. The second vocal chorus of disapproval has come from Congressional Republicans who seem to reject anything that has Obama’s name on it. They conveniently forget that Republican President George W. Bush’s refused to accept an Iranian overture in 2003, believing that the sanctions regime of the day would weaken Iran for a better deal. The Republican leadership is now talking about increased sanctions. Again, this can be positive to reinforce on the Iranian leadership that a stronger and more permanent deal is required, or else, the current sanction regime will be strengthened.
A third chorus of opposition comes from Saudi Arabia, which is locked in a proxy war in Syria, and the larger Arab world. The Saudi opposition further indicates that the failure of the interim agreement will have consequences for the Iranians.
On a more positive front, some national security experts, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter Administration) and Brent Scoweroft (George H. W. Bush Administration) have issued a joint communiqué supporting the agreement. Former Clinton diplomat Strobe Talbot (Deputy Secretary of State 1999-2001) has also signaled a positive reaction.
Clearly, Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) will not be a rubberstamp for the Obama Administration, which nonetheless has free rein in applying the current Geneva accord. Some Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer are in effect signaling that it is not a blank check, and that Congress intends to take stronger measures if Iran is proven to have acted in bad faith.
As for Canada, we have a government that has closed its embassy in Iran. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has displayed skepticism at the deal. Unfortunately, Canada, while part of the sanctions regime, is not a real player in this current round and its viewpoint will be of little interest.
The accord is a first step and the next one will be complicated. The alternative to this deal, however, is no deal, no dialogue, continued Iranian stockpiling of centrifuges (194 centrifuges in 2003, 19,000 now), deeper impact of the sanctions which seem to hurt the Iranian people more than the regime, more insecurity and greater potential for war in the region. This is why the Geneva accord on Iran nuclear development is worth the gamble.