Posted by Hunter Headapohl on July 29, 2015 in Blog

MEPC_Iran.pngOn July 16  the Middle East Policy Council hosted a Capitol Hill forum about the recently negotiated Iran Nuclear Deal.  The panel, made up of experts in defense, economics, and public policy, looked not so much at the deal itself but on the broader strategic and economic impacts of the agreement. The forum began with remarks from James Miller, former undersecretary for policy at the Department of Defense and board member of the Atlantic council. Mr. Miller discussed the security implications of the agreement, arguing that we could not have gotten a better deal given the strict inspection standards of the agreement and the ability to snap back sanctions. Like many others, he shared concerns that Iran would try to cheat under the agreement, but argued that we are prepared to respond if they do so. He also countered the narrative of Iran’s military supremacy in the region, highlighting Iran’s relatively low military spending compared to Saudi Arabia and its restricted access to weapons under the sanctions.

The next speaker Nabeel Khoury, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, examined the deal from a diplomatic standpoint. He noted that assuming Iran would try to cheat, undermines the purpose of the agreement. Diplomacy is built largely on trust, and the trust generated by expecting Tehran to uphold the deal opens the door to ministerial-level talks between Iran and the US, allowing access to diplomatic channels that the State Department can use to communicate with Iran on a host of other regional issues.  He also believes that the nuclear weapons program is a “side issue” compared to Iran’s other activities in the region.

Paul Pillar, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies and the Brookings Institute, argues that the trust issue goes both ways. He also dispelled the notion that the deal marks an alliance between Tehran and Washington. He cautioned congress not to re-impose nuclear sanctions on Iran if they do not cheat, arguing that if the sanctions were expressly to curb the Iranian nuclear program then the purpose of the sanctions was a lie if congress continues to impose them. In effect, re-imposing the nuclear sanctions would dis-incentivize Iran from working with the international community in the future.

The final panelist, Sara Vakhshouri of SVB Energy International, offered a unique perspective on the deal’s consequences. As an expert in energy and economics, she examined the possible effects of sanctions relief on the price of oil, the revitalization of the Iranian middle class, and even the geo-strategic implications of an Iran that is open for business. Iran has strategic reserves that are ready to be released with the lifting of sanctions, and she believes that the nuclear deal will not affect market prices dramatically, but will serve to keep oil prices low. She also shed light on how the lifting of sanctions could actually curb Iran’s nefarious activities, since coming out of isolation will create a higher incentive for Iran to engage in more responsible and accountable behavior. She believes that when international investment and business in Iran increases, the regime will be less likely to engage in behaviors that would affect its economy.

One thing that all panelists agreed on, however, was that the Iranian Nuclear Agreement was a positive first step and a good deal. The overwhelming opinion was that the deal effectively blocks Iran’s pathway to the bomb and also could have a positive influence on regional stability, global economics, and nuclear non-proliferation.

Hunter Headapohl is an intern with the Arab American Institute