As Americans and Iranians weigh the consequences of the draft nuclear agreement announced Thursday, a number of its provisions remain under close scrutiny. In the first full day since its announcement, Iranian and American authorities are already presenting conflicting interpretations of its rules.
Where could the tentative agreement fall through before its final deadline on June 30, and is there any chance of saving it before then?
1. Nobody knows how or when sanctions will go away
One of the chief factors that kept Iranian officials at the table was the promise of relief from sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy since 1979. Ordinary Iranians are suffering economically and feel their country has been humiliated in front of the world.
In efforts to convince their respective citizens that an agreement is worthwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have taken very different stances on the timeline for relief of these sanctions.
Sanction removal “will be phased as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal,” Obama said in public remarks Thursday.
Meanwhile, Rouhani declared Friday that “on the day that the agreement comes to force, all economic, banking sanction and all resolutions against Iran will be lifted.” (RELATED: Negotiators Announce Plan For 10-Year Iranian Nuclear Restrictions)
Contrary to both, the European Union’s summary states that U.S. economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted once the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies Iran’s compliance with the deal’s initial terms. As the existing sketches of a deal become set in stone by late June, the two countries at its center must come to terms about when these sanctions roll back.
2. We also don’t know how sanctions return if violation of the agreement occurs
Obama has pledged that sanctions would automatically “snap back” into place if Iran is found violating the terms of the deal. But the process by which that would happen remains unclear. A variety of U.S. government bodies oversee the existing sanctions regime, and each would be required to carefully weigh the evidence of a violation before electing to put sanctions back in place.
Renewed sanctions by the U.N., meanwhile, would require votes from Russia and China, permanent UN Security Council members who have so far supported Iran’s bid for legitimacy. Having helped usher the deal to fruition thus far, the two Iranian allies are unlikely to help isolate the country again.
And on the practical level, foreign companies facing access to new markets in Iran may prove resistant to losing their new investments if sanctions on doing business with Iran fall back into place. Besides the merely procedural considerations, resistance from the business community has a chance of sinking the re-establishment of sanctions against the country.
3. International inspections might not go far enough…
While Iran will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its three existing nuclear facilities (two of which will be restructured with international oversight), the extent and regularity of the IAEA’s inspections has yet to be determined.
Sen. John McCain has already expressed concerns that “international inspectors will not be permitted to go anywhere in Iran, at any time, to monitor Iranian compliance.” In other words, Iran will still control the level of independence with which those inspectors verify its compliance with the rules. (RELATED: Congress, US Allies Raise Concerns Over Draft Iran Deal)
4. … And Iran could simply cheat again
In the years preceding the start of nuclear negotiations with Iran, the U.S. caught Iran several times trying to expand weapons-grade nuclear activity, and sanctioned it accordingly.
The proposed deal operates by the logic that a supervised Iran with limited nuclear activity is safer to the international order than an unrestricted Iran operating in the dark. Echoing President Ronald Reagan’s fondness for the Russian proverb “trust but verify,” Obama insisted that “this deal is not based on trust, it’s based on unprecedented verification.”
But the nuclear facilities eligible for inspection today include Fordow, a site hidden inside a mountain that only came to light in 2009. Opponents of the deal say that if Iran successfully started building a hard water reactor without disclosure to the IAEA, nothing will prevent it from continuing to pursue other more concerted nuclear projects out of the public eye.
5. Iran is still misbehaving at home and abroad
A number of high-profile U.S. citizens are imprisoned in Iran, including former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, and evangelical pastor Saeed Abedini. Their release was not a part of the agreement.
Iran also faces pressure from many countries for human rights violations. In fact, a separate track of U.S. sanctions tied to its human rights record was deliberately taken off the table in the latest round of talks.
Meanwhile, Iran supports internationally sanctioned terrorist groups around the Middle East and continues to regularly agitate against Israel.
“Erasing Israel off the map” was “non-negotiable,” Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of Iran’s Basij militia, said on the Iranian state propaganda channel PressTv within days of officials coming to a nuclear agreement. Inflammatory comments aside, just the existence of the Basij — Iran’s version of the Gestapo — sends a disconcerting signal to Western negotiators.
Besides Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf see Iran as a dangerous competitor for influence in the region, especially as it increasingly supports Iraq’s government in the struggle against Islamic State terrorists. As it wages a proxy war against Iranian-aligned rebels in Yemen, Saudi Arabia may see Iran’s ploy for power as a reason to step up aggression of its own. (RELATED: What Would A Middle East Nuclear Arms Race Look Like?)
6. But perhaps most importantly, Iran’s rivals in the region are tentatively supportive
In a heartening move, Sunni Arab officials in the Gulf have said that Thursday’s proposal is “a reassuring result” with reasonable protections against Iranian subterfuge. And the foreign ministry of Bahrain, which regularly accuses Iran of trying to foment a Shiite takeover in the Gulf, welcomed signs of “a qualitative change in Iranian policy toward non-interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region.”
Egypt, another major Sunni power which fears Iranian hegemony and supports the Arab campaign in Yemen, issued a statement Friday that a Western agreement with Iran could “help achieve stability in the Middle East.”
If the states that would feel the greatest threat from a rogue Iran think that the deal may be a good move, the Middle Eastern political landscape may yet be able to accommodate the consequences of a regulated, safeguarded Iran.
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