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A Sham Deal
January/February 2015

No closer: Negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities in Geneva, November 2013

The 24 November deadline for a nuclear agreement with Iran came and went with no deal and the likelihood of further delays in 2015. Both the Obama Administration and its European allies are adamant that we have never before been as close to a deal as we are today. Delicate diplomatic issues, after all, require time.

There is little reason to believe them. All evidence points in the opposite direction. The international community can reach a deal over Iran's nuclear programme only at the price of meeting Tehran's red lines. And the problem is that Iran will only agree to restrictions on its nuclear activities as long as they do not ultimately bar its path to a bomb. In the 12 months of negotiations conducted under the interim agreement, Iran won one major policy victory and gained four major concessions in the nuclear domain.

First, Iran has successfully made Western Middle East policy a hostage to the nuclear deal. Iran continues to pursue its hegemonic ambitions in the region. Tehran has stayed the course in Syria and kept up its support for Assad: training, advising and financing Assad's forces and guiding their brutality over the past 45 months. Their ferocity, coupled with Western lack of support for a viable moderate opposition, is what prompted the rise of Islamic State in Syria. Iran's brazen support for the Shia sectarian drive in Iraq did the rest.

Going after Assad and defending legitimate Sunni interests in Iraq is one promising way to complement a successful military campaign against IS. Yet Iran has persuaded Washington that seeking confrontation with Iran over Damascus could jeopardise a nuclear deal. The Obama White House has bought into Iran's narrative that there is a convergence of interests between Washington and Tehran over stopping the advance of IS in Syria and Iraq. These two assumptions have consigned Western efforts against IS to a disastrous stalemate and handed Iran the strategic upper hand in the region. By strengthening Iran's position, Washington has also broadcast weakness to its allies and adversaries alike. This weakness spills over into the nuclear negotiations as Iran is persuaded that Western refusal to go after Iran's proxies means that our lack of resolve can be leveraged in the nuclear domain as well.

Second, the international community has already conceded that Iran will never have to suspend enrichment activities as stipulated under six UN Security Council Resolutions passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Moreover, in a final agreement, Iran will have a right to enrich uranium formally recognised. Few remember that Iran was building its enrichment facilities in secret and that, had they not been exposed twice, in 2002 and 2009, Iran might have had a nuclear bomb by now. In 2005 Iran was declared in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it is a signatory; in 2006 the International Atomic Energy Agency referred Iran's non-compliance to the Security Council. It was because of its enrichment activities that the Security Council considers Iran's programme a global threat. It is because of Iran's refusal to fulfil its NPT obligations that its economy is under sanctions.

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