Geneva Accord Spells End of Unilateralism on Iran

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

As the dust settles on the historic Geneva accord reached between Iran and the world powers, both sides are gearing up for the "implementation stage" of the agreement, commencing on December 20th and, already, the sirens of opposition by the right-wing media in US can be heard a plenty. 

Although the opinion polls indicate that the American people favor this agreement by a margin of 2 to 1, a powerful section of the US media, including the Wall Street Journal, Fox Television Network, National Review, etc., has rallied against it by branding it as a "victory for Iran" and therefore a cause for Congressional intervention through new sanctions in order to put a stop to what is now commonly referred to as "Iran appeasement."

For their part, the US lawmakers appear to be divided and some, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), have "left the door open" for new sanctions, while others like Senator Bob Mendez, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (D-New Jersey) have threatened to prepare the new sanctions legislation ‘‘should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement.’’ 

But, as the Los Angeles Times has rightly reported, on November 28, the interim agreement is also a blessing for the US, since the new proposed sanctions target US's trade partners, such as India and China, and would almost certainly backfire against the US both economically as well as diplomatically (with respect to the tenuous alliance on Iran sanctions). 

From the legal standpoint, however, the bar has been raised on US unilateralism against Iran as a result of the multilateral agreement in Geneva. Only collective and multilateral consent on the part of the "5 +1" nations can determine the issue of Iran's compliance or lack of compliance and any question of its "failure." This important development has yet to be brought to the full attention of US lawmakers, who continue to operate by the pre-accord standards, seemingly unaware of the entirely new constraints placed on unilateral
US action vis-a-vis Iran by the Geneva Accord.

Per the terms of this Accord, the US Government is obligated to ensure the absence of any new sanctions against Iran while this interim agreement is in effect -- and parties are given the opportunity to extend the initial six months if they so choose by mutual consent. This important fact has bypassed the editors of Wall Street Journal, on November 29, when they urge the Congress to "strengthen sanctions." But, should the Congress heed such calls and defy the White House and pass new sanctions, then it will put the US on a collision course with the rest of "5 +1" nations that have signed this agreement, the net result being the collapse of both the Geneva Accord and the international coalition the US has built against Iran over the past decade.

In other words, a multilateral certificate of Iranian non-compliance with the Geneva Accord is necessary before the US government and its legislative branch can take any new initiative against Iran that would be even mildly regarded as legitimate by the international community.  In case the US Congress turns completely 'rogue' and passes new legislation while the Geneva Accord is still in the process of implementation (by a joint commission), then this will give Iran a solid alibi to complain to the UN Security Council and simultaneously appeal to the international community against US Congressional obstructionism.

The news that the European Union has slapped Iran with new sanctions is indeed startling in light of the Geneva Accord's understanding on no new sanctions. These EU actions are legally questionable and potentially derail the agreement, reflecting anti-Iran animus that infects sound judgment among the EU policymakers.

By fettering the US western superpower and introducing a timely check on hitherto unrestrained US action against Iran, the Geneva Accord represents a milestone in international affairs, i.e., a major plus for the post-Cold War global order still infected by the unhealthy traces of US 'unipolarism'. Its significance thus goes beyond the purview of "opening a new diplomatic path," to paraphrase President Obama, and, in fact, shows the feathers of a "new global diplomacy." 

As such, the Geneva Accord is not simply a triumph for Iran, rather it is a triumph for the whole world community and the hitherto unfinished project of passage to a post-cold war era of genuine multilateralism. At the same time, this agreement is a major plus for the non-proliferation regime, by strengthening this regime via substantially decreasing the proliferation concerns about Iran, as a prelude for more meaningful initiatives in the near future on the lofty objective of a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone.

*Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) .  Afrasiabi is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction (2007), Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

Key Words: Geneva Accord, Unilateralism, Iran, Right-Wing Media, US, Sanctions, EU, Congressional Obstructionism, Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone, Afrasiabi

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