Obama’s Iran Policy Close to Failure

Obama’s Iran Policy Close to Failure

The next round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program is scheduled on March 15-20 with final agreement to be reached till March 24. This is a very dubious prospect. The outcome of the meeting held in Paris on March 7 with the participation of US, French, German and British foreign chiefs showed that the hopes for successful outcome of the talks on Iran are vague enough. 

State Secretary John Kerry tried to convince the West European allies that the US-drafted version of the final agreement excludes the possibility of Iran going nuclear. France calls this affirmation into question, Germany has doubts about the prospects for agreement and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that, although a nuclear deal would «be great for both sides and, in our view, for the region as a whole... the outcome is still uncertain.» EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini shied away from detailed comments. She only called the opportunity for a deal with Iran «historic» and said more work needed to be done in the coming days and weeks on issues that had yet to be resolved. Europe ceded the United States the leading role at the negotiation table. Now it looks like it is inclined to believe that Washington has failed. 

The only point the US and Europe agree on is that the talks cannot be delayed anymore. Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has ruled out a further extension of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group over Tehran’s nuclear program. Obviously it doesn’t sound like the support of the draft agreement offered by the White House. More to it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the would-be agreement had to take into consideration the Israel’s concern over its security. French President Francois Hollande openly says France does not approve the unilateral concessions that, to his mind, Washington is ready to make. According to Hollande, the number of centrifuges to be used by Iran for uranium enrichment under the US version of the agreement is «unacceptable». Paris opposes the Iran’s right to maintain the nuclear program. Hollande warned that he would refuse to sign a nuclear deal with Tehran if certain details are not changed, such as the number of centrifuges that Iran could keep in its possession. 

The ten-year long effort may end up in deadlock. There are disagreements between the Western allies inside the P5+1 group. To some extent it’s the fault of Iranian interlocutors who have chosen wrong tactics. It’s not clear why the Rouhani team decided that it would be enough to seek an agreement with Americans only. The «big six» represents the whole international community. No individual group member can have a special stance. Iran is to comply with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the decisions taken by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which are construed the same way by everyone. Still different interpretations remain. At the start of negotiation process in November 2013, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Loran Fabius said France stands out from crowd. Paris has its own view which is more close to the position of Israel than the proposals put forward by Obama. 

Washington has always taken the side of Israel when it came to Iran. It had been clear before the Netanyahu’s visit to the United States that the Congress would make a choice in favor of Israel, not the President of the country. The relations between Obama and Netanyahu had been strained before to turn into outright mutual aversion now. Europe appears to support Netanyahu in the stand-off. At least that’s what the comments made by Europeans during the March 7 Paris meeting make think. 

The realization that the termination of years long process of seeking diplomatic solution of the Iranian problem may be close at hand has exacerbated the confrontation between the Congress and the President to the extent when lawmakers appear to be ready to deviate from the Constitution. 

The US Congress and the Israeli leader oppose any agreement with Iran depriving Obama of his prerogative to define the foreign policy of the country. Before the Netanyahu’s Congress address the bipartisan bill Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 was introduced to Congress by the end of February. (1) The bill mandates the President to submit the text of nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress within 5 days. Then the Congress will decide if the agreement meets the requirements of non-proliferation and does not threaten the US national security preventing Iran from continuing the implementation of nuclear program. The Congress wants a moratorium of lifting anti-Iranian sanctions be introduced and remain in force till it reviews the deal with Tehran. Senators believe that the process will require 60 days. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 «prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days.» It is emphasized that the «passage of a joint resolution of disapproval (overriding a presidential veto) within the 60-day period would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement.» (2) If in force the provision will publicly humiliate the President. The crisis of confidence leading to the division between the Congress and the President may turn into a constitutional scandal making the Netanyahu demarche pale. West European allies appear to side with the President’s opponents. Obama seems to be readying to step back. At least he openly says that the historic chance to reach the agreement may be missed. Obama is even ready to leave the scene, «If there's no deal, then we walk away». (3) But he wants to walk away applauded. The good news, he said, is that Iran has abided by the terms of the interim agreement and not advanced its nuclear program during that time. «We're not losing anything through these talks», he said. 

Tehran believes an agreement has a chance. «The odds of [reaching] a [final] deal is more than 50 percent», Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on May 7. It’s not clear what makes him sound so optimistic. Will Iran accept the requirement to freeze the nuclear research for 10 years? The chief Iranian diplomat has already spoken about the possibility of suspending the research but he did not make precise for how long. The acceptance of this very provision will hardly suit the US Congress or Israel as they want the entire Iranian nuclear infrastructure be eliminated. 

1) «Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015»