A lot of noise, signifying nothing
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
summarizing where we are at deadly Iran deal
A lot of noise, signifying nothing
The next deadline for an agreement between the P5+1 nations and Iran over its nuclear program is June 30. As with prior deadlines, the next one can be extended to iron out "final" details as occurred
1. Concessions by the P5+1: The concessions are largely from the P5+1, not Iran.
a. The United States has stated publicly that sanctions relief would be gradual, and tied to specific performance by Iran in mothballing or decommissioning aspects of its nuclear program, and satisfying the new supposedly tougher inspections regime. When the Iranian leadership declared in early April that this was not the case, and sanctions relief was to be immediate, with an estimated $50 billion released pretty much upon inking the deal, President Barack Obama retreated and seemed to be agreeable to this interpretation. He stated to reporters that sanctions disagreement could be "creatively addressed" in future negotiations, but no one need worry,
b. since there were sanctions "snapbacks" that would occur quickly to reinstate sanctions if Iran regressed from its commitments. Of course, Iran would already have $50 billion in hand, perhaps more, and Obama's assurances on snapbacks do not appear to have incorporated the views on this issue of some of the other P5+1 members, which have veto authority at the United Nations Security Council, such as Vladimir Putin's Russia or China. ...The description of this process as a "snapback," suggesting any kind of immediacy or high likelihood of success, seems, as a result, largely unwarranted. Again, these snapbacks were what Obama proposed as providing security that Iran would not cheat after first releasing an enormous amount of money to the country for having done little more than sign an agreement. The Americans' deal sheet that was released by Secretary of State John Kerry after the Lausanne talks concluded, and which the Iranians claimed were a fiction in some areas, appear to have largely been an American spin in those areas where disagreements remained, or an attempt to hide concessions already made or yet to be made.
c. This was especially the case in regard to sanctions relief. Despite some attempts to put the deal in the best light as a true compromise with roughly equal concessions by both sides, the American deal sheet, which indicated that sanctions relief would match performance by Iran, appears to be inaccurate.
From that fact sheet:
"• U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.
"• The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snapback of sanctions in the event of significant nonperformance.
"• All past U.N. Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordo, Arak, PMD, and transparency)."
The administration's latest admissions now indicate that lack of performance might at best bring some sanctions back (assuming Russia and China are willing) but will not delay initial sanctions relief.
2. Iranian public statements and behavior: If Obama's seeming obsession with reaching a nuclear deal with Iran is consummated, the real question is whether Iran has in any way become a changed nation after a few years of talking with "the great Satan," the nation that Iranians have clamored for "death to" for 36 years. So far, there is no evidence of any kind that Iran seems willing to join the "community of nations," and become less of a belligerent on the world stage. While the talks have been going on, Iran has stepped up its military involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and most recently has seized a foreign ship belonging to the Marshall Islands. Iranian leaders have also made clear that their military programs are off limits to nuclear inspectors. With tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, Iran's ability to further project its power in the region, and arm Israel's enemies Hezbollah and Hamas, will only be elevated. As mentioned earlier, Iran has also issued its own interpretation of what was agreed to in the recently concluded round of negotiations, and it includes a lot fewer Iranian concessions than the Americans have claimed even apart from sanctions relief.
3. Congressional action: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed unanimously the Corker-Menendez bill, which provides for a quick review by Congress of the Iran deal after it is finalized. Some regarded this as a big victory for Congress, since the president had fought congressional review, arguing this was not a treaty but an executive action or agreement. It is highly likely that the Congress will pass the current version of the bill, and it will be signed by the president. Where conflict may emerge is if a final deal is signed with the Iranians, and it is submitted to Congress. Assume a majority in Congress oppose the deal. For sure, the president will veto that action. An override of this veto in Congress would require a 2/3 vote in each house: 67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House of Representatives. In the 2014 midterms, Republicans won 54 Senate seats, and 247 house seats. Assuming all current house vacancies are filled by the party that had held these seats in January, and that all Republicans voted to override a presidential veto (not a certainty by any means), Republicans would need 13 Democrats in the Senate and 43 in the House to succeed in the veto override. The chances of this occurring are not good. If the Iran deal were viewed as a treaty, then the president would need 67 votes in the Senate for ratification. Now Obama only has to hold 34 members of his party in the Senate. There are a lot of games being played with congressional action on this bill. A series of recent public opinion polls show that the president's loud and aggressive campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress, including implied threats of hostility at the U.N., antagonized a sizable number of normally reliably Democratic Jewish voters. With a presidential election 18 months away, and Democrats anxious to regain the Senate this cycle, many party members are looking for a way to show solidarity with Israel, after 60 Democrats in the Senate and House rudely boycotted the prime minister's speech to Congress. Voting for the Corker-Menendez bill is an easy way to do that -- since it only enables Congress to get a shot at reviewing the deal, but does not commit any Democrat to in fact oppose the deal when it is reviewed, or vote to override the president of his own party if a veto is cast by Obama. Jewish organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which preach the gospel of bipartisanship, are also anxious to show that the bonds between Democrats and Israel have not been broken. As a result, efforts to strengthen the Corker-Menendez bill to give it more teeth, including amendments from Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, were opposed by Democrats and some Republicans as well, ostensibly fearing that any change in the language of the bill would generate a presidential veto, killing Republican efforts to get any kind of congressional review and Democratic efforts to fake that the party is still largely pro-Israel. In other words, there is a saleable picture of congressional behavior attached to a fairly weak bill. But this is viewed as better than no bill due to a presidential veto or loss of Democratic support.
It does not take a forecaster with Nate Silver's skills to predict where this is going. A deal is likely to be signed. The U.S. Congress will not be able to stop it. Iran will continue to behave as Iran has behaved. And over time, sooner or later, Iran will have its nuclear weapons.