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Iran Deal: Political Game-Changer or Epic Delusion?

On Sunday, 25 November, in Geneva, the US and Iran made what can only be described as a landmark move towards ending sanctions despite a flurry of activity—including the bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, which killed 23 and wounded 170 others—intended to derail any such progress.

Iran Deal

Even the foreign minister of France—a country now beholden to Israeli lobbying and Saudi money—noted that some sanctions currently in place against Iran could be lifted as early as December. Specifically, this initial agreement could free up around $7 billion for Iran--mostly from revenue transfers from restricted crude oil sales--and see the country’s gradual return to the trade in gold, petrochemicals, oil (sort of) and car and plane parts. In essence, though, it’s not a huge deal. Tons of Iranian money will remain frozen, and it will still only be able to export 1 million barrels of oil a day. This is a baby step—but in a barren room where even the smallest footstep echoes endlessly.

In return, Iran will agree to halt the enrichment of uranium beyond 5%, give IAEA inspectors greater freedom to investigate inside the country, and suspend activities at the Arak heavy water enrichment facility.

Under the deal, Iran has six months to try it all on and if compliance does not seem to be forthcoming, the sanctions would be reapplied. (Here is the full deal for those of you who wish to take it apart piece by piece.)

Plenty of Powerful Spoilers

Will the deal go through? Given the level of opposition to it from the powerful Israeli and Saudi lobbies, and the determination of US Congress to see that it doesn’t happen, it’s hard to imagine a future for it. Still, it was hard to imagine it getting this far—and it has.

The Obama administration indeed has much to be thankful for on this holiday—particularly that the deal with Iran in Geneva came during the Thanksgiving break, when Congress was out.

The fight in US Congress will pick up serious momentum next week, when the heavy hitters return from the holiday break, and there are both Democrats and Republicans who oppose the deal. In a taste of what is to come, the key “Iran hawk” in US Congress, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, has described the deal as “so far away from what the end game should look like”, which should be to “stop enrichment”.

Likewise, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came out against the deal, saying it “did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program”.

Supporting the deal is Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, who said the deal was favorable because “for the first time in a decade, it halts Iran’s program, and indeed it rolls it back in certain key respects.”

What we need to look at here most importantly is the temporary nature of the deal, which is only six months. It will be what comes after that Congress will attack because this is the REAL deal. Iran will be tested for six months on its compliance with the terms set out in the temporary deal, and all manner of methods will be used to ensure the deal doesn’t go any further—that Iran fails in its six-month “trial”.

The previous round of Geneva talks had hit a wall, with Congress threatening to pass a new round of sanctions. Congress backed down from this temporarily, but when a deal was actually reached on Sunday, threats of new sanctions again emerged for as early as next week. And with even a handful of Democrats aligning with the Republicans on this issue, the Obama administration is fighting an uphill battle in attempting to convince Congress to hold off on new sanctions until the six-months are up. If it doesn’t, the deal will be dead in the water. Even if we make it past the six months without new sanctions, the real deal on the table after that will require a rollback of US sanctions on Iran—and getting Congress to agree to this will be a formidable task.

In the meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sending a high-level delegation to Washington to push the ongoing message that the deal threatens Israel’s security and the entire geopolitical balance in the Middle East.

The Longer-Term ‘Pivot’

The Middle East may be our current obsession, but Asia is arguably the future. Asia has many gateways, and one of the first is the region’s Southwest, where Iran exercises a great deal of control. One could argue here for the long-term picture (which generally eludes Washington for a number of reasons some avoidable, some unavoidable) and suggest that Washington’s strategically necessary pivot towards Asia cannot be done without Iran. For this reason, a deal WILL eventually be made. It may not be now, it may not be in six months, but the general atmosphere is one of a pivot away from the Middle East and towards Asia and there is no halting this, only sporadically delaying.

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