Why Opponents of the Iran Deal Are Wrong?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Diako Hosseini
Researcher, Iranian Institute for European and American Studies (Iran- EURICA)

Iran and the P5+1 group of countries – the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China – have finally clinched a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program after many years of haggling. This is good news for those who knew that failure of diplomacy could lead to a catastrophe, but is bad news for those who believe that an agreement with Iran would be followed by a catastrophe. Proponents of each viewpoint produce their own evidence, but not both of them can be right at the same time. The main argument offered by the critics of the deal is that an agreement, which restricts Iran's nuclear activities for only 15 years, will allow the country to get back to the situation where it can continue to enrich uranium using more advanced centrifuges when the period of restrictions ends, while the United States loses the means it has to supervise Iran's nuclear activities.

Therefore, they argue that according to the nuclear agreement, Iran's arms bans will be totally lifted in a matter of eight years and the country will reclaim its past position in international oil market and will be able to provide militants affiliated to Tehran will all the equipment they need. These arguments look totally correct at the first glance, but as put by Sherlock Holms, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” In fact, such criticism is based on erroneous premises topped by the wrong notion that the Islamic Republic of Iran, like an irrational, revisionist and expansionist actor, is trying to take advantage of any opportunity to disrupt the regional order and target the United States and its allies. Iran experts are well aware that such a notion is very far from the actual thinking and pragmatic approach adopted by Iran's foreign policy. Iranophobia cannot be taken as a good basis for the formulation of any strategy because it explains the history, intentions as well as military and economic capabilities of Iran in the worst possible manner. It is also unable to facilitate the understanding that Iran's foreign policy, like all countries that have experienced conditions of embargo and insecurity while being constantly threatened with regime change by a more powerful player, needs to have guarantees for its survival. As put by Robert Baer, the former CIA agent, in his brilliant book, The Devil We Know, “If we ignore their words and focus on their [Iranians] actions, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are rational actors. They’re willing to talk to the West. They’re willing to set bounds. They have fixed reasonable demands. It is time the United States stops standing on pride and principles it can no longer afford.

Regardless of the details of the Iran-West agreement, cunning strategists are well aware that this agreement was just a face-saving end to the nuclear standoff, and was not supposed to be an unbeatable means of blocking Iran's access to nuclear weapons. As put by the Economist, “A country of Iran's size and sophistication will get a bomb if it really wants one. Nothing can change that.” US President Barack Obama is realist enough to know that even the strictest of economic sanctions cannot force Iran to totally shut down all its nuclear facilities. This is not only due to the fact that as a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran has the right to have nuclear energy industry for peaceful purposes, but because recent polls conducted by two research organization; namely, University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research (UTCPOR) and, in May 2015, showed that overwhelming majorities of Iranians continue to say that it is very important for Iran to have a nuclear program.

Here, once again the policy of separating the Iranian government from the nation by ignoring Iran's democratic dynamism has failed. Although in Iran, like any other country, there is a gap between public demands and the government’s ability to meet those demands; this does not mean that the majority of Iranians does not support those policies that represent Iran's rights as an ordinary country within international community. The West’s effort to deprive Iran of its right to nuclear activities will put in gear the immense power of Iranian nationalism against the West and take people’s support for official policies to its peak. So, when there is no way to totally deprive Iran of its legitimate and peaceful nuclear activities, the sole way to make sure that the country will not opt for production of nuclear weapons when the period of agreement expires is to build multilateral trust and cooperate with Iran and, at the same time, eliminate those motivations which may possibly encourage Iran and other regional countries to move toward production of nuclear weapons.

The United States should take a similar approach to Iran's capability in the area of conventional weapons. There is no evidence to show that under financial and arms bans, Iran's military stamina will be undermined or the country will stop supporting its allies across the region. Iran is now one of top 10 missile powers in the world and has achieved almost all that progress under the toughest sanctions regime. Continuation of the arms embargo will increase Iran's suspicion of the West and give it stronger motives to further bolster its defense capabilities. So, instead of continuing the wrong approach of the past, which has been based on incomplete understanding of Iran, the United States and the West in general should try to know Iran's political structure and culture and understand motivations behind its foreign policy behavior. Iran is disgruntled with the West’s injustice and double standards with regard to such issues as the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and human rights, and wants to be recognized as a responsible regional power. Tehran also wants a strategy of interaction with Iran to take the place of useless strategy of threat and sanctions.

To do this, the United States can begin with discarding its narrow-minded regime change policy and starting broad-based strategic cooperation with Iran. Iran is among the most important supporters of a Middle East free from nuclear weapons and has already indicated its willingness to take part in the formulation of an overarching arms control regime. These issues, along with fighting extremism, protecting stability of energy corridors in the Persian Gulf, and restoring stability to Syria, Iraq and Yemen, are good grounds for more profound cooperation between Iran and the United States. In that case, the United States will see that Iran is a much more responsible country than what the West believes today. As put by Iran's Supreme Leader, the nuclear agreement is just a test to measure trustworthiness of the West. The main question is will the two countries be able, through correct mutual understanding of each other’s interests, to open a new chapter of cooperation following the nuclear agreement, instead of exacerbating the existing security dilemma?

Key Words: P5+1, Nuclear Deal, Iran, US, Pragmatic Approach, Regional Order, Middle East Free from Nuclear Weapons, Iran’s Political Structure, Injustice, Double Standards, Peaceful Nuclear Activities, Missile Power, Hosseini

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*Photo Credit: The New York Review of Books

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