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

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs