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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora