• 22 July 2016
  • Posted By Ubtene Zamaninia
  • 0 Comments
  • Iran deal, Nuclear deal

Examining the Deal’s Impact on Regional Proliferation

IAEAThe Obama administration chose to negotiate with Iran with two overarching goals: to close off Iran’s path to acquiring a nuclear weapon, and – by extension – to ensure that Iranian actions do not trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The IAEA’s latest report has found that Iran continues to abide by all its commitments under the JCPOA, a clear vindication that the first goal is being accomplished. The second goal, preventing a nuclear race to the bottom in the Middle East, was simultaneously accomplished by agreeing on a level of continued enrichment that did not trigger a nuclear race.

However, many conservative foreign policy analysts have urged the administration to push for a complete suspension of Iran’s nuclear program, having deemed the region, and in particular Saudi Arabia, unable to tolerate any level of Iranian enrichment. The analysts predicted that a nuclear-armed or nuclear-threshold Iran would trigger Saudi Arabia into pursuing a nuclear weapon, which would than cascade throughout the Middle East.

The Saudis latched on to these narratives, explicitly stating that they would not hesitate to pursue a nuclear weapon should Iran develop one.

These arguments resurfaced again after the JCPOA was signed, with some arguing as early as 2015 that the deal was a diplomatic failure as it did not halt Iran’s uranium enrichment. These critics proclaimed that regional actors – such as the UAE, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia – will no longer feel bound by their commitments to non-proliferation in light of the JCPOA as the constraints under the deal did not go far enough.

A year after the signing of the nuclear agreement is the perfect time to return to these predictions and determine how accurate they were. A cursory glance at the region demonstrates that while regional conflicts persist, there are no new nuclear states, and no indications that key regional players are moving towards pursuing a program capable of developing a nuclear weapon.

A May 2016 report from the Brookings Institution authored by former Obama administration officials Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew evaluates the prospect of proliferation following the JCPOA. The report assesses the likelihood of regional proliferation based on three elements: domestic human capital, technology/wealth, and desire to pursue nuclear weapons, specifically focusing on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Turkey. The ultimate assessment finds that because none possess all three elements required for pursuing a weapons program, the JCPOA “has not triggered a nuclear race”.

Saudi Arabia, crowned by the report as the most likely candidate to pursue a weapons program, fails on the first and third elements. The lack of domestic human capital and strong desire for pursuing a nuclear weapon, remain the primary obstacles between the Kingdom and a nuclear weapon. According to the report, “While they clearly have the necessary financial resources the Saudis lack the human and physical infrastructure and have had to postpone their ambitious nuclear power plans for eight years while they train the required personnel.” The report went on to find that the delay resulted from Saudi authorities recognizing “that they did not have the workforce, supply chain, or regulatory infrastructure to support such an ambitious effort”. The slow process of developing a domestic nuclear force has led the Saudis to pursue foreign assistance, though as the report notes the Saudis are years away from even constructing their first power reactor.

While the report does not rule out the possibility that Saudi Arabia may eventually acquire a full-fledged nuclear program, it found that the UAE does not seem to harbor any such aspirations. However, as the report notes, the UAE has signed agreements with the United States to forego enrichment and reprocessing and currently has four nuclear reactors, which will go online in 2017. The report notes, however, that because of foreign contractors, “the UAE will not be independently capable of operating its nuclear facilities for quite some time.”

Egypt, “the only [nation examined by the report] that previously made efforts to acquire nuclear weapons”, did not meet all three requirements either. Ultimately, Egypt today possesses the human capital and to some extent desire, but lacks the technology, according to Einhorn and Nephew. As the report states, “the Egyptian nuclear budget remains small, something that is unlikely to be remedied during ongoing domestic unrest.” Furthermore, the report found that Egyptian nuclear aspirations are not clearly linked to Iran, indicating that distance and lack of conflict would likely negate a security dilemma triggered by a potential Iranian nuclear weapons capability.

Similarly, in the report’s determination Turkey does not perceive Iran or its program as a military threat despite regional disagreements. The report noted that Turkey will not pursue nuclear weapons because “[They] believe they can count on NATO in a crisis, and would be reluctant to put their NATO ties in jeopardy by pursuing nuclear weapons.” Hence, Turkey could likely depend on NATO protections and the U.S. nuclear umbrella from nuclear threats within and outside the region. Moreover, a recent poll available in the report has found that a majority of Turks believe the nuclear deal is a positive as opposed to negative development for the region.
The report’s thesis, that Iran’s remaining nuclear program has not triggered a nuclear race, is well argued. However, the report could have gone even further. An argument can be made that the deal can support non-proliferation in the Middle East beyond the particulars of Iran’s program. At a recent event on nuclear policy for the next administration hosted by the Society for Foreign Affairs, Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association made the recommendation that “One of the areas the United States can work on is to introduce the more innovative aspects of the JCPOA, such as 24-hour supervision of facilities into the standard protocols of the NPT as nations move towards nuclear power resources.” This is particularly important for the Middle East as nations such as Turkey, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia consider expanding their nuclear programs. Additionally, by removing one of the region’s foremost security threats, the JCPOA could usher in renewed focus on further non-proliferation agreements – including the pursuit of a regional Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone and the pursuit of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty throughout the region.

While the JCPOA has not triggered a nuclear race, the accord’s collapse could potentially shift the current paradigm, forcing nations throughout the region to reassess their level of security and hence their desire to possess a nuclear weapon. It is therefore in our interest to maintain the status quo so as to ensure that the current organization of power, one which has not triggered a proliferation race, is not disrupted.

  • 28 June 2016
  • Posted By Karina Bakhshiazar
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear deal, Sanctions

Financial Task Force Acknowledges Iran’s Progress, Leaving Deal Opponents at Odds

On June 24, 2016, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) acknowledged Iran’s high-level political commitment to an Action Plan and their active decision to seek technical assistance in its implementation. As a result, FATF—whose purpose is the development and promotion of policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing—suspended its calls for counter-measures on Iran for a 12 month period in order to monitor Iran’s progress in implementing the Action Plan. The move by FATF acknowledges the positive steps taken by Iran to resolve concerns regarding its banking sector–and moves Iran off the FATF “black list” and onto its “grey list.” The decision, while widely anticipated, has left Iran hawks divided in their response.

Iran’s inclusion on FATF’s blacklist had been utilized by JCPOA opponents to argue against the nuclear accord and Obama administration attempts to ensure the provision of sanctions relief. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) cited FATF’s designation of Iran and its calls for counter-measures as the primary reason for blocking administration efforts to reinstate a version of the U-turn license (under which the U.S. would permit certain dollar clearing on behalf of Iran through the U.S. financial system). In April, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce likewise claimed that FATF’s concern with Iran is “why I’m working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on legislation to put in place strict statutory prohibitions to keep Iran from receiving the benefits of accessing the U.S. financial system.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jeb Hensarling also cited FATF’s call for countermeasures on Iran as the reason to oppose further diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic.

When U.S. officials hinted that FATF might loosen restrictions on Iran in recognition of Iran’s progress in reforming its banking laws, opponents of the nuclear accord intensified efforts to maintain the status quo. Chairman Royce penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, urging him to ensure that Iran remained on FATF’s list of countries that are “high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions” and to keep in place FATF’s call for counter-measures against Iran. Outside groups like United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) acted similarly, urging FATF to reinstate and strengthen its call for member-states and other jurisdictions to impose countermeasures against Iran.

Yet when FATF suspended its call for countermeasures, Chairman Royce, UANI, and other deal opponents spun the decision as a victory and vindication of their efforts. Careful observers will note the irony; Royce, UANI, and others had expressly called for FATF to keep in place its call for countermeasures against Iran and not to recognize the progress made by Iran in reforming its banking laws.

It is no surprise that those who utilized FATF’s stance on Iran as a means to dissuade trade and commercial engagement with Tehran are trying to square a circle and claim victory for their side. For them, bad news on Iran is good news, even when such bad news has to be invented. For its part, AIPAC was not in sync with UANI and Royce’s frame–they condemned the FATF statement as “dangerous.” However, FATF’s position is clear: Iran has made progress in reforming its banking laws; Iran has made a “high-level political commitment” to an Action Plan that commits Iran to further reform; and Iran is now deserving of a suspension of the call for countermeasures to be imposed. Being the expert global anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism organization, FATF’s judgment is to be trusted in all matters – not just when its judgment happens to run in parallel with an anti-Iran platform.

  • 27 May 2016
  • Posted By Emily Salwen
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

Why is Google Analytics blocking Iranians? Thank the embargo

When Google products that have been blocked for Iranians by the U.S. economic embargo suddenly became available in early May, many Iranians felt a glimmer of hope. For a brief moment, it appeared that Google Analytics, Google Developers and Android’s website for developers would join products like Gmail and the Google Play store that had been made accessible for Iranians over the past few years. Iranians reacted with excitement and positivity on twitter:

But just a few days later these products were once again inaccessible:

The reason for the reimposition of the ban is most likely the U.S. economic embargo on Iran. While many Google products have been exempted from the embargo over the past six years as part of an effort to ensure the sanctions no longer interfered with online communications, the trade embargo still remains in place for communications tools that have commercial applications.

Google Analytics is a service that tracks and records a website’s traffic and provides statistical analysis to help users understand and accommodate their user demographic. Google Developers, another commercial initiative, is a site that provides a forum for software developers, bringing together blogs, discussion groups and tools to encourage innovation and collaboration among users.

Due to sanctions, access to communications technology in Iran has been unstable. During Iran’s Green Movement, citizens mobilized using Facebook and Twitter, yet many of the tools that were being used were technically blocked by the U.S.. On one hand, American officials and lawmakers in 2009 were extolling the virtues of Internet freedom and criticizing the Iranian government’s crackdown on free expression, on the other hand the U.S. policy was to actually prohibit many of the tools necessary for such communications. Iranians were forced to circumvent not just their own government’s repression, but also the economic embargo.

In late 2009, the State and Treasury Departments began to address this contradiction by lifting the embargo on free communications software and offering a more streamlined policy for licensing the export of certain communications tools. It was a small but important step.

However, many of the sanctions remained in place — including not just on services like web hosting or paid software, but on hardware like laptops and phones. And especially as the U.S. expanded economic sanctions on Iran in 2012, there were further instances of communications technology being blocked. There were even several cases of Apple Store employees refusing to sell iPhones or iPads to Iranian Americans because of suspicions that they were going to be sent to family in Iran in violation of the embargo.

As the Apple incidents show, sanctions greatly impact businesses’ decision-making. In 2012, many applications were exempted from the embargo but were still unavailable in Iran because businesses still feared the repercussions of sanctions violations. Recognizing this, the State and Treasury Departments subsequently issued General License D in 2013, explicitly allowing the export of even paid-for personal communications hardware, software and services. The license also made it legal to export devices like mobile phones, satellite phones and computers to Iran. In 2014, this license was expanded and clarified to allow non-U.S. companies to re-export U.S.-made software and hardware from outside the U.S., and U.S. companies to export applicable foreign-made products from third countries.

But even with these welcome steps, there are still barriers in place. In 2016, nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted, yet services like Google Analytics, Google Developers and even Facebook Ads are not allowed in Iran because they are for commercial use. At a time when Iran is beginning to reintegrate into the global economy, and the U.S. and European governments are actually encouraging such reintegration, the embargo on commercial communications services does not add up.

President Obama himself has extolled the benefits of Iran’s economy opening and “young Iranians who dream of making their mark in the world” having an opportunity to do so. Lifting the remaining communications sanctions would be a step in the right direction that would particularly benefit young Iranian entrepreneurs. The U.S. should go further and lift restrictions against investment and mentoring for the professional development of Iranian tech entrepreneurs. The Iranian tech industry is steadily growing and Iranians will benefit greatly from access to U.S. commercial technologies. Hopefully, the U.S. government will work together to make these important changes a reality.

  • 11 March 2016
  • Posted By Joe Molnar
  • 4 Comments
  • Sanctions

Why is Venmo Targeting Norooz?

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Critics of the Iran nuclear deal have a lot of concerns. Some claim the Ayatollahs are now literally swimming in pools filled with sweet American cash. Others are distraught that Iranians may no longer be resigned to travel via flying coffins now that Airbus and Boeing are allowed upgrade the country’s civilian airliners.

But the real threat from Iran is far more nefarious: Norooz, the Iranian new year.

Who can protect the free world from the treacherous spread of holiday cheer and delicious food? One company, Venmo, is taking the threat seriously:

Thanks to ongoing financial sanctions and a U.S. trade embargo on Iran that remains in place even post-nuclear deal, companies like Venmo must navigate a myriad of due diligence requirements. And–perhaps given the billions that banks have been fined in the past under sanctions–Venmo is taking its responsibilities very, very seriously. How? By ensuring nobody sends transactions with such nefarious terms as “Iran” or “Persian”.

Do not be fooled, there is nothing harmless about the Iranian threat:

Venmo is on a very successful streak of identifying troublesome elements within the US who have attempted to use its services for other nefarious purposes. They caught one offender who had the gall to reference the name “Ahmed” in a transaction description:

Yesterday a tipster emailed us with a bizarre story: Venmo had frozen her friend’s account over a $40 transaction to her boyfriend. The reason? Her friend had mistakenly typed the name “Ahmed” in the memo—and “Ahmed,” Venmo claimed, was on a Treasury Department list of suspected terrorists, drug runners, and money launderers. “It’s nonsensical,” a lawyer who specializes in international trade regulations told us.

They have even decrypted coded symbols such as the so-called “fire emoji,” probably related to some violent intent:

https://twitter.com/lyssa_morales/status/701120875345477632
Venmo’s sensors even manage to stumble on actual violations of sanctions on occasion, including such harmful activities as supporting refugees from Syria.

These efforts, while novel in their scope, are nothing new. Over the past several years across corporate America, companies have been falling over themselves to ensure maximum enforcement of sanctions. Past acts of heroism include Apple refusing to sell products to Iranian Americans and Bank of America’s suspension of accounts owned by Iranian students. Sanctions even convinced University of Massachusetts Amherst and Virginia Commonwealth University to briefly refuse to admit Iranian students. Unfortunately their resolve would prove weak on this decision that was labeled “discrimination.”

Hopefully, Venmo will not falter like others before it. Venmo, knight of freedom, guardian of America, may children sing of your deeds for ages to come. As long as none of those children are named Ahmed.

  • 12 February 2016
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Uncategorized

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) Highlights Benefits of the JCPOA


This week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held what was supposed to be a hearing on the oversight of the Iran nuclear deal but ended up being a forum for opponents of the deal to try to raise controversies over issues outside of the nuclear agreement. This was not unnoticed by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA):

“This is a fascinating hearing because it is supposed to be on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, and some of the most strident and loud critics of entering into that deal at all are now focused on airlines, and revolutionary guards business activities and sanctions and closing up banks, rather than the actual elements of the nuclear agreement, which they were the first to say would never work.”

In five minutes of questioning for Stephen Mull, the lead coordinator for the implementation of the agreement, Connolly confirmed that the deal is indeed working, Iran has complied on every point of the agreement, and that they are further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon today than before the agreement. “I happen to draw the opposite conclusion of the Prime Minister of Israel,” Connolly said. “The existential threat to Israel would have been denying this agreement.”

Connolly’s full questioning is above and worth the short watch. The full hearing can be watched here.

  • 18 December 2015
  • Posted By Michael Esfahani
  • 0 Comments
  • discrimination

How will Visa Waiver amendments affect Iranian Americans?

With the Visa Waiver Reform Bill (formerly, H.R. 158) expected to pass in Congress as part of the larger “Omnibus” appropriations act by this weekend, classes of American dual nationals, including Iranian Americans, will likely face new challenges visiting 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. As a result of the discriminatory quality of the provision, Iranian Americans will need to know how the new legislation will come to affect them.

Congressional aims to prevent members of anti-American militant groups from infiltrating the US has culminated in a rigid policy that seeks to regulate the flow of foreigners from those participating countries. Individuals who have traveled within the last five years to, or hold dual citizenship with, Iraq or Syria, as well as with those designated by the US as State Sponsors of Terrorism – Iran and Sudan –  will need to apply for a visa when coming to the US.

The language will not affect travel between the United States and Iran. American citizens or green card holders would not need a visa to re-enter the US after traveling to Iran.  It would also not affect Iranian citizens in possession of, or seeking, a US visa.

Challenges arise, however, when dual-national Iranian Americans want to travel to participating countries of the Visa Waiver Program. Where Iranian Americans will feel the impact of the provision is the likely reciprocation of the mandate by foreign governments participating in the Visa Waiver Program. The European Union, for example, already has in place laws that allow for the expedition of reciprocal restrictions in the event that they are imposed by a third party on European nationals. In short, if the provision is passed, dual-national Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese Americans, along with anyone who has taken recent travel to these countries, will have to apply for a visa prior to traveling to Europe. Consequently, these communities would be exclusively stripped of their visa waiver privileges.

The piece of legislation is a clear example of institutional discrimination that will affect the Iranian American community. By passing the provision, Congress is indirectly, and knowingly, barring Iranian Americans from their fundamental privileges as US citizens.

  • 16 October 2015
  • Posted By Sahar Kian
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran, Nuclear deal, Sanctions

Incentive and Investment in Iran

Having failed to block the Iran nuclear deal through Congressional review or other means, some critics of the agreement are now working to undermine its implementation. One of “backdoor” methods of countering the deal was recently laid out by panelists at a conference convened by the Washington Institute of Near East Peace. Despite the creativity in masking the true intentions of this approach, this effort is clearly yet another a disingenuous attempt to kill the deal.

Panelists at the conference discussed how to hinder sanctions relief required under the agreement by intimidating potential investors from doing business in Iran. They proposed a two-part plan designed to discourage foreign investment. First, they said investors must be convinced that doing legitimate business with Iran would be a liability from a public relations standpoint. In other words, they plan on diminishing foreign investment by making it a moral taboo to trade with Iran, and by threatening to damage the reputations of companies who consider investment. Second, they recommended that the non-nuclear sanctions that will remain in place under the deal should be expanded—which would then limit or negate the practical benefits of easing of nuclear-related sanctions.

This new effort is disconcerting and carries real risks. The nuclear deal is a good deal, and its terms – including resuming economic relations – must not be breached. The international community recognizes that the deal is based on reciprocation: if we want Iran to honor the deal, then we must also honor its terms as they were intended. If we reinterpret the terms of a deal that addresses the international community’s security concerns, we invite Iran to do the same and turn a good deal into a bad one. Moreover, it could cost us our partners’ cooperation going forward. Europe especially suffered economically as a result of the sanctions regime and is looking forward to recovering by setting the scene for serious investment in Iran. There will be little appetite for further cooperation to address other issues with Iran if the U.S. is viewed as renegotiating the agreed terms for sanctions relief and punishing our European allies in the process.

  • 16 October 2015
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, Updates, US-Iran War

The Iran Deal Moves to a New Phase

Salehi

Photo via Washington Post.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral accord to roll back and ensure intrusive inspections over Iran’s nuclear program, has cleared significant hurdles this week that will enable the parties to begin to implement their obligations beginning on October 18, or “Adoption Day.” With Iranian hardliners and Congressional opponents’ failure to kill the deal over the past three months, the agreement’s new phase will enable the parties to begin to see the benefits of the accord.

On Tuesday, the Iranian parliament passed a bill giving the government permission to implement the agreement by a vote of 161-59. Despite the strong vote, the deal was not without controversy. As a sign of the fierce domestic opposition faced by the deal’s negotiators, one parliamentarian allegedly threatened to kill Iran’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, and bury him underneath the Arak reactor. Despite the fierce protestations of hardliners, the bill was passed and then upheld by Iran’s Guardian Council on Wednesday, effectively ending Iran’s internal review of the agreement.

On Thursday, the IAEA also announced the completion of a road map on a long-standing investigation into Iran’s prior, possible military dimensions to its nuclear activities. Over the past three months, the road map obligated Iran to provide information on a range of questions on its nuclear activities, largely prior to 2003, and to provide the IAEA with environmental sampling at a building on the Parchin military complex that was suspected of housing nuclear-related activities. The IAEA will issue a report summarizing its findings by December 2015. This progress, only possible following the striking of the JCPOA, should give the IAEA and international community greater insight into the extent of Iran’s past nuclear pursuits.

As a result, the JCPOA will reach “Adoption Day” by October 18, marking the point where the parties officially begin to undertake their obligations. Iran’s concessions are heavily front-loaded. In the months ahead, we should see Iran remove approximately 13,000 installed centrifuges, reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 97%, limit the enrichment of uranium to one heavily-monitored facility, destroy the core of the Arak reactor, and expand inspector access across its nuclear program, among other steps. Had opponents succeeded in killing the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program would be moving forward in the months ahead, not taking significant steps backward.

Iran has indicated that they hope to complete these steps by December 2015. U.S. assessments are more conservative, and it is possible that the work will stretch into the spring of 2016. However, there is incentive for Iran to hurry. While the U.S. and Europe are obligated to issue sanctions waivers on Adoption Day, those will only go into effect on “Implementation Day” – after Iran has completed its aforementioned nuclear obligations. Thus, sanctions will remain in place and Iran will not begin to see the economic benefit of the JCPOA for months. With parliamentary elections and a selection for Iran’s Assembly of Experts coming in February 2016, Rouhani will want to point to evidence of sanctions relief to energize his base and ensure that moderates make significant gains in both critical bodies. Such a shift would almost certainly increase the President’s political capital, and could make it easier for him to take on hardliners intent on maintaining Iran’s harsh security environment.

However, while the JCPOA enters this new phase, we have already seen evidence of hardliners digging in. The test-firing of a ballistic missile earlier this week, Supreme Leader Khamenei’s warning against further negotiations and U.S. influence, and the continuation of escalated human rights abuses overseen by the Iranian judiciary all signal trepidation with shifting events while foreshadowing a continued struggle over Iran’s direction in the wake of the deal. This was far from unexpected, as many observers predicted an initial hardening as factions seek to balance against the success and popularity of Rouhani and his team. Whether the U.S. signals moderation or doubles down on hostility in this new phase could tilt the scales of these coming domestic battles, and also expand or limit any potential diplomatic dividend that follows the nuclear agreement’s implementation.

  • 17 September 2015
  • Posted By Alex Kneib
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Capitalize on the Iran Deal, Double Down on Diplomacy

At a recent House hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, the 30th since the accord was struck, Admiral William Fallon offered an important perspective that has been largely missing from much of the recent debate.

“The suspension of sanctions will increase economic activity and personal travel in the region, boosting interaction with the Iranian population, resulting in pressure to normalize state to state relationships,” said Fallon, who previously served as Commander of U.S. Central Command. “The potential for confidence building, and possibly even trust, between Iran and the international community as implementation proceeds, could initiate a more pragmatic political dynamic inside Iran to address the unrest and frustrations of the population, the majority under age 30.”

Admiral Fallon’s testimony stood apart not only due to its support of the deal—Congress has largely only invited opponents of the agreement to testify—but also because his optimism about the opportunities afforded by the JCPOA to engage Iran beyond the nuclear issue.

At a time when even some supporters of the agreement have couched their endorsement behind new calls for countering Iran militarily or with more sanctions, Fallon’s comments are a welcome movement towards doubling down on diplomacy. Although the JCPOA was a result of diplomacy that stemmed from necessity on both negotiating sides, it served and will hopefully continue to serve as a reminder to each side that cooperation is possible. As noted in one of Trita Parsi’s recent op-ed pieces, the conditions for strong cooperation are present. “Iranian society is overwhelmingly moderate, educated and forward-looking; despite the existence of a small but highly vocal element of religious radicals.” Furthermore, the coming reintegration of Iran into the global economy will increase the incentives for economic cooperation between Iran and the U.S. although for now the U.S. maintains a near total embargo.

To achieve and sustain cooperation, U.S. and Iran must seek a greater sense of mutual understanding, while setting reasonable aspirations for cooperation. For example, as noted by Professor Shireen T. Hunter, “the Middle East crisis cannot be resolved by a single country.” Upon further cooperation with Iran, the U.S. must understand that cooperation contributes to stability in the region but does not outright solve it. Moreover, to maintain cooperation, the U.S. must seek to understand Iran’s regional and geopolitical interests and concerns. As each country traded concessions in the JCPOA, they should mimic such action to pursue mutually beneficial solutions to the significant challenges that remain between the two countries, as well as within the broader region.

Unfortunately, most of the discussion of what comes after the nuclear has focused on how to contain and sanction Iran. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) even has legislation in the works to combat the success of the JCPOA.  The outline for his legislation, contained in a Washington Post op-ed, puts forth veiled threats and measures designed to kill the deal and return to a posture of containment towards Iran. In regards to veiled threats, he and others argue for further arming of Israel and putting a military option on the table. One of the many ineffective policies towards Iran during the George W. Bush administration was to keep all military options on the table and use military threats to garner leverage. Returning to this policy would put the U.S. back on a path of escalation towards conflict rather than a path towards diplomatic solutions. Rather than going back to the old policy tool kit, which hasn’t yielded U.S. foreign policy objectives, we should use what has worked: diplomatic engagement. In turn, building upon the JCPOA offers a route to address further bilateral issues such as Iran’s conventional weapons program, ballistic missile program, and terrorism support.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader has alluded to an openness for further engagement between Iran and the U.S. outside of the nuclear issue. “If the counterpart [the United States] stops its bad behavior, one could expand this experience to other issues,” he said of the diplomatic process, following the announcement of the framework nuclear agreement in April. However, the potential for further progress on this front seems to have deteriorated amidst the rhetorical back and forth that officials in Iran and the U.S. have engaged in as they have sought to sell the deal to their domestic audiences. Khamenei has since changed his public stance and announced that Iran will not hold further talks with the US outside of the nuclear issue. This is problematic if we want to see the deal as a gateway to a brighter future. Although implementation of the JCPOA will be a difficult process due to the complexity of the 159-page agreement and of the political environment, the sides should utilize the milestone of the JCPOA to capitalize on the positive momentum for Iran-US engagement and avoid a return to provocation.

Administration Seeks Support for Iran Deal in Contentious Hearing

Secretaries Kerry and Moniz testify. Photo courtesy of AP.

With only seven weeks left until the September 17th deadline for Congress to vote to approve or reject the Iran deal, it is increasingly looking like a deal will rest on the support of a handful of key Democrats. Last week, in a contentious hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that stretched into a fifth hour, senior Obama administration officials mounted a spirited defense of the Iran deal in the face of near-unanimous Republican opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew all testified in their first public appearance before Congress since the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) set the tone for Republican attacks by accusing Sec. Kerry of being “fleeced” by the Iranians. He was later followed by his colleague Sen. James Risch (R-ID) who declared “you guys have been bamboozled.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Republican Presidential candidate, charged that the agreement was “fundamentally flawed” and left the hearing shortly thereafter. Other Republican members of the committee were equally, if not more combative, with the exception of Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

While Sen. Isakson was not as aggressive as his Republican colleagues, only inquiring as to why American nationals are not allowed to be part of the IAEA inspection teams, his previous statements have caused some to put him in the “No” camp.

Sen. Flake, on the other hand, is one of the lone Republicans in the Senate that is neither outright opposed nor leaning in opposition to the Iran deal. He reiterated his support for the negotiations and indicated he wasn’t looking to ask any “gotcha” questions. “I understand the problem of having 535 secretaries of state,” Flake said of the Congressional push to have a say on the Iran deal, but in order to have a lasting deal he added “it is best to have Congress involved.”

With Republicans largely united in opposition, the administration is forced to pin its hopes on convincing Congressional Democrats to block a possible vote of disapproval during the 60 day review period.

Outside of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a longtime opponent of the administration’s negotiations with Iran, the rest of the Democrats on the committee asked largely helpful questions about specific parts of the deal. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chastised her Republican colleagues for personal attacks on Sec. Kerry and the other witnesses, calling it “ridiculous and unfair and wrong” to say that they had been “bamboozled” or “fleeced.” The United Nations Security Council had earlier in the week unanimously passed a resolution approving the Iran Deal. Sen. Boxer alluded to this when she remarked “so my colleagues think you [Sec. Kerry] were fleeced and bamboozled, and that means everybody was fleeced and bamboozled, everybody, almost everybody in the world.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee and one of the key swing votes in the Senate, claimed “our negotiators got an awful lot, particularly on the nuclear front,” adding that many areas “have been strengthened since the April framework,” though he was noncommittal on how he would ultimately vote.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) did indicate that he was worried about what happens as the most intrusive elements of the agreement expire but he struck a supportive note when he said “this is a deal that produces a dramatically better position for 15 years than the status quo.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) was another supportive voice on the committee, adding that he trusted the expertise of the nuclear scientists at the national labs in New Mexico who helped craft the inspection and verification regime. On the question of ensuring timely access to suspicious non-nuclear sites under the deal, which has emerged as a key point of debate, Udall asked, “do you believe we have the technical capabilities to determine if enrichment is being done outside the JCPOA?” Sec. Moniz answered affirmatively, pointing to the example of an Iranian site in 2003 where traces of uranium were detected after six months, “despite major efforts to disguise it.”

In the coming weeks, the Obama administration will continue to defend the Iran deal during the Congressional review period while shoring up support among Democrats and any fence-sitting Republicans to stave off Congressional rejection. Sec. Kerry and Sec. Moniz will head to the House Foreign Relations Committee today in what is expected to be a similarly contentious hearing.