On Wednesday, President Obama addressed reporters and the American public at a press conference on the Iran nuclear deal. In the midst of the 90-minute conversation, he addressed the highly prevalent concerns about the broader issues of Iran’s damaging effects on stability in the Middle East. The deal addresses none of these issues, although there is a passing reference to proliferation.
Meanwhile, many U.S. legislators and analysts understandably ask whether a nuclear deal can be divorced from the Iranian regime’s suppression of human rights of the Iranian people. And more to the point, how can the United States have friendly relations with the Islamic Republic and leave it free to continue its other activities, such as sponsored terrorism.
Obama acknowledged the Iranian regime’s domestic human rights violations and support of terrorism; efforts to make Iraq a de facto province of Iran; support for Assad of Syria, which prolongs the civil war and refugee crisis; and destabilization of Yemen as ongoing problems. The president said that, “My hope is that building on this deal we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave.” In effect, the deal solves one particular problem, which is making sure the Iranian regime does not acquire a bomb.
Not only did the recent negotiations fail to look beyond a singular problem, it is not even correct to claim that it solves that one problem. The deal gives more away to the Iranian regime than it wins for the Western powers. The deal purports to restrict Iran’s enrichment to a certain level of purity but has little effect on the nation’s nuclear infrastructure. It leaves costly gaps in the verification methods that we are counting on to make sure that Iran doesn’t cheat. And as my former colleague in the Reagan administration and later at The Washington Institute, Dennis Ross, states, “Iran will cheat.” Given Iran’s track record, it will likely cheat at the margins to test means of verification and see how it might be able to change the baseline.
President Obama claims he is not counting on Iran to change its behavior; it certainly seems as though the nuclear agreement puts a great deal of faith in the Islamic Republic’s leadership to hold up its end of the bargain. Coming to the brink of conceding one of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s unreasonable redlines, the deal effectively allows Tehran to obstruct international inspectors’ access to military sites even after they come under suspicion of being involved in nuclear projects.
Iran has habitually deceived the West, giving signs of basic compliance while conducting illicit nuclear-related activities at hidden sites and under the noses of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has always avoided revealing the details of its nuclear program until the weight of intelligence from foreign agencies and domestic dissidents made it impossible to keep up its denials. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed sites that Iran has shielded from foreign scrutiny over the past 13 years. And it took years of UN resolutions and economic sanctions before Iran would concede to negotiate on restrictions to even a fraction of these sites.
Far from committing to transparency on the future of its nuclear program, Tehran has forced a situation in which foreign intelligence agencies and the NCRI will have to go on expending resources on uncovering that which remains concealed.
An NCRI statement in the wake of the agreement expressed understandable disappointment. The organization’s president, Maryam Rajavi emphasized that the West squandered an opportunity to exploit Iran’s economic weakness and susceptibility to domestic revolt to force it to withdraw completely from its nuclear ambitions.
Unfortunately for the stability of the region, Iran’s economic vulnerability is about to be alleviated. But this does not have to mean that its strength or its influence is secure. President Obama is wrong to hope for the moderation of an Iranian regime that has only intensified its suppression of dissent and its anti-Western rhetoric in the midst of negotiations. But even though Iran’s newfound inclusion in the world community won’t reach the nation’s leaders, it may empower the Iranian people with greater access to wealth and Western influence.
The role of the West now is to push toward a solution not only to the “one particular problem” of Iran’s nuclear program, but also to the overall problem of Iran’s destabilizing effect on the Middle East and the world. As David Makovsky and Matthew Levitt of The Washington Institute suggest, “Conduct a review of all existing U.S. sanctions on Iranian entities for their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and prepare a list of those that should remain in place because the designated entity is involved not only in proliferation but also in Iran’s other “menacing behaviors.”
Prepare the intelligence community to use its own resources and those of the Iranian resistance to uncover any cheating on the part of Tehran. Only once verification goes well beyond IAEA inspections can we be sure that we have solved even that “one particular problem,” let alone the more extensive problem that is the nature of the Iranian regime.
Raymond Tanter is a former Member of the White House National Security Council staff and Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in the Reagan-Bush administration