Posted by on June 17, 2014 in Blog

By Elizabeth Adams
Summer Intern, 2014

A part of what makes art beautiful is the way that two people can look at the same piece and see entirely different things. Author Anais Nin wrote that, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s June 12 hearing on “Regional Implications of a Nuclear Deal with Iran”, it became clear that one of the most important factors going into negotiations is how states/actors perceive the negotiations themselves. Witnesses Scott Modell of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, and Ambassador Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy all gave testimony to the way Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States, and Iran have different lenses to look at the talks with, which affects the way negotiations will develop.

The United States

The United States comes into negotiations warily, noting how Iran has previously withheld intel on both their nuclear and weaponization programs. Senators spent most of their time talking about what to do if and when Iran cheats, and the concept of “distrust and verify” in regards to inspections. Witness Frederick W. Kagan stated that given the size and terrain of Iran, it would be impossible to verify Iran’s compliance with any deal, and he made it clear that he thought without an Iranian “change of heart” they would not be transparent in regards to their nuclear program.

Another point of discussions was the “Regional Threat Network” that Iran has cultivated, and how this would be empowered by any rollback in the crippling sanctions that have been imposed on them.  If a deal is reached and sanctions are eased , Scott Modell, former director of the CIA stated, “Iran stands to gain access to nearly $100 billion dollars frozen in foreign banks, as well as billions more as oil export restrictions are lifted… All of this will provide the leaders of the Iran Threat Network with the resources they need to gradually return to previous levels of operational activity”. The US believes Iran currently finances its own extraterritorial military forces, known as the IRJ Quds, in Iran, and also backs Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad along with Hamas in Palestine, and has been known to fund non-state military actors in the Gulf countries. In light of this, the United States is wary that any nuclear deal comes hand-in-hand with the need to counter these destabilizing groups across the region.

Iran

Iran knows that the Obama administration wants a deal much more than they do, despite the isolating and economically damaging effects of the sanctions. However, Iran does not fundamentally connect the nuclear issue with the sanctions- a subject that both Khamenei and Rouhani have spoken on. More recently Rouhani has said that the sanctions regime has crumbled and would not be rebuilt despite the outcome of negotiations.

Khamenei’s rhetoric about the nuclear program allowing Iranians to achieve independence is countered on the US side by Kagan, who believes that it is for defensive purposes, and would allow Iran to continue with other objectives throughout the region.  

At the hearing, Senator Cardin (D-MD) expressed his belief that Tehran thinks it has the advantage because of Obama’s willingness or ‘desperation’ to come to a deal. Due to this, Iran will play hardball during negotiations in an attempt to extract the most concessions possible. Rouhani has issued statements postulating that the only way a deal can be made within the time limit is if sanctions are lifted immediately. Araqchi is putting pressure on the international community by highlighting the fact that Iran would go back to enriching uranium to 20% if talks failed.

 Modell stated that, “They are hoping for an easing of sanctions, and they are looking to enter into a 10 to 20 year process that will allow them to replenish their funds and get their threat network back and get their economy going.” In the hearing it was agreed upon that sanctions should not be lifted until a deal is met that is satisfactory to the United States.

GGC and Israel

Regionally, negotiations for a US-Iran Nuclear Deal are a cause for concern among US allies. Saudi Arabia fears a deal that will thaw the frosty relationship between their strong ally, the United States and Iran- their principle rival. According to Ambassador Dennis Ross, Saudi Arabia perceives Iran as threatening their very existence. They see Persian hands in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Bahrain- effectively encircling Saudi Arabia. If the United States strikes a deal and sanctions are rolled back, Saudis and Emiratis are understandably concerned with Iran’s subsequently increased capability to fund militant groups and destabilize the region further.

Israel, who has threatened to take military action against Iran, is cautious about a deal, but open to one that would take away the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons capability. Israelis ultimately feel that the United States is playing a dangerous game with their safety and that they might be left to stand alone against Iran. The panel was very concerned about Israel’s reaction to a deal and discussed how to comfort Israelis- one method Ambassador Ross suggested was to “…compensate the Israelis if there is a deal by providing more bunker-buster bombs and more tankers to make them more capable of militarily acting on their own against the Iranians in the face of cheating.” It makes one wonder how Israel defines “cheating” in terms of developing a nuclear weapons program.

Certainly, any deal will have to be more than a work of art to meet expectations from all sides; negotiators should be composing a masterpiece. In an imperfect world, manmade masterpieces are few and far between. They take creativity, time, patience, and in this case, compromise: creating a verification program, dealing with the “Regional Threat Network”, and agreeing on enrichment standards will be some of the major issues to watch. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi suggested that there might be an extension of six months for the Geneva deal to continue to craft the deal through negotiations.

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