News / Middle East

Column: Keep Onus on Iran to Implement Nuclear Accord

FILE - In this Feb. 2007 photo, an Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 410 kilometers (255 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.FILE - In this Feb. 2007 photo, an Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 410 kilometers (255 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.
x
FILE - In this Feb. 2007 photo, an Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 410 kilometers (255 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.
FILE - In this Feb. 2007 photo, an Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 410 kilometers (255 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.
This week’s announcement that the nuclear deal reached with Iran in late November is going to be implemented starting January 20 is welcome news on a number of fronts.
 
It marks the first time in a decade that Iran will pause its progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. In return for modest sanctions relief, the Islamic Republic has promised to limit uranium enrichment to levels far below weapons grade, neutralize a stockpile of 20 percent uranium and suspend key work on a heavy water reactor that could yield plutonium, another potential bomb fuel. All of this will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency under new – and for Iran – unprecedented powers of inspection.
 
Beyond these substantive achievements, implementation should pause efforts by hardliners in the United States and Iran to jeopardize a more comprehensive accord by legislating deal-killing conditions.
 
A Senate bill that has been steadily amassing co-sponsors since Congress returned from its Christmas-New Year’s break now looks unlikely to be voted on anytime soon. The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), may have provided useful leverage to the Barack Obama administration and its negotiating partners by threatening Iran with even more draconian economic sanctions if it did not implement the Nov. 24 interim agreement. Actual passage, however, could force Iran to walk away from the negotiating table and escalate its nuclear program as well as forestalling the potential for cooperation on other, pressing regional matters.
 
While the U.S. Congress has far more autonomy than the Iranian parliament has under Iran’s theocracy, the conservative-dominated Tehran body responded to the Kirk-Menendez bill by preparing legislation requiring the Iranian atomic energy organization to enrich uranium to 60 percent. That is very close to the 90 percent required to make bombs.
 
President Obama has promised to veto new sanctions legislation if it comes to his desk. However, mere passage of the bill would show Iran that Obama cannot control even the Democratic-majority Senate. If Iran is going to fulfill its part of the interim accord and accept even tougher requirements under a comprehensive agreement, it must have confidence that the White House can also deliver.
 
The Senate bill, dubbed the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” and a resolution sponsored by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va) in the House of Representatives are also dangerous because they attempt to tie the administration’s hands by moving the goalposts for agreement. The Senate bill, for example, would impose new sanctions on Iran unless the president certifies that “Iran has not conducted any tests for ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 500 kilometers” and that “Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned, or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or United States persons or property anywhere in the world.” While it would be wonderful if Iran halted missile tests and its support for groups such as Hezbollah, such matters are beyond the purview of a nuclear agreement and would certainly be rejected by the Iranians.
 
The Senate legislation also requires that the U.S. seek an agreement that will “dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure” – in effect requiring that Iran end uranium enrichment. The Iranians suspended their enrichment program a decade ago but have made clear that they will not do so again even if they accept limitations on the level of enrichment and uranium stockpiles.
 
Edward Levine, a former senior Senate staffer and expert on nuclear matters, observed recently that the Senate bill “will undercut President Obama’s efforts to obtain a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear activities. To the extent that it removes the diplomatic option, moreover, it will leave the United States closer to a Hobson’s choice between going to war with Iran and accepting Iran as an eventual nuclear weapons state.”
 
There are no guarantees that the current diplomatic process will produce a comprehensive agreement that verifiably prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons for the long term. President Obama has said the chances of agreement are at best, 50-50. The Iranians will seek to preserve as much of their nuclear infrastructure as possible to keep their options open and to justify the billions of dollars in lost revenues and economic opportunity incurred by their nuclear quest.
 
If negotiations succeed, however, they will set a precedent for constructive engagement with the Iranians on other pressing issues including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 
 
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), told the Senate on Tuesday (Jan. 14) that former U.S. adversaries have shown an ability to change course. If new sanctions are passed now, “I sincerely believe that P5+1 [five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany] negotiations with Iran would end and with it the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior – a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but change the course of a nation,” she said.
 
Legislating new sanctions – even with a delayed trigger – would remove the onus from the Iranians to follow through on their nonproliferation promises, preclude other cooperation and strengthen those in the Iranian government who doubt that the U.S. can change and give up its hostility toward Iran. If this historic effort fails, it should be Iran’s fault, not because of the United States.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid