THE LONG ROAD TO AN IRANIAN NUCLEAR DEAL AND WHY IT MUST WORK

By: Harry C. Blaney III

Secretary Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as he arrives in Vienna for nuclear talks.
Secretary Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as he arrives in Vienna for nuclear talks.

We are fast approaching the tentative deadline of July 20 and the right-wing hawks are already trying to sabotage this critical effort by making unnecessary demands that Iran give up entirely all its enrichment efforts and infrastructure. This is a demand that, as everyone knows, is not possible in the context of Iranian politics. What is possible, though, is a system of controls that will ensure as much as humanly possible that these efforts do not cross over into provision of nuclear weapons to Iran.

It is unlikely that a complete and comprehensive draft agreement can be reached within the next few days. For that reason, most experts in this area have argued for the extension of negotiations. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post editorial pages published articles pushing this viewpoint today: “Keep Negotiating on Iran’s Nukes” (NYT) and “Heading into overtime” (Washington Post). Both have argued for extending the process with Iran, as some progress has been made and the issues are complex and difficult for both sides. The Washington Post, as usual these days, was more grudging but it admitted that a breakdown could lead to military conflict. The New York Times, meanwhile, made a stronger case for continuation. The extreme right in Iran would like to see the agreement fail, and the extreme right in America seems to be thinking the very same. For some very strange and absurd reasons, they appear to believe that a war with Iran might be in our interest.

All sides agree that some progress has been made. In the end, it is in Iran’s best interest to not find itself in war, although its leader has sadly staked out a hard stance on enrichment and the number of centrifuges. For the U.S. a long-term deal on nuclear issues and the establishment of a constructive dialogue on other key issues is the best path.

But, we do need to explore new paths to a solid outcome because this is not likely to be the last word on the issue. So, the question is whether the wise and rational elements in both countries can produce an acceptable agreement. Or, will the more conservative American advocates (who only want an unnecessary total ban on Iranian enrichment – which they know Iran can’t accept) triumph? Further, this type of demand will not give us our desired level of nuclear security. If right-wing elements win this debate they will plunge us all into even more chaos and unleash Iran’s full-out nuclear efforts without either limits or inspections.

As with so many other efforts, the GOP’s key aim is to undermine the authority and policies of President Obama even at the expense of American security interests abroad and at home. This kind of tactic was seen in the Benghazi incident when they began exploiting it for nasty political purposes. We also saw it in their attacks on American efforts to obtain comprehensive immigration legislation and in their attacks on the IRS for doing its duty in seeing if certain groups are truly abiding by the 501(c)3 non-profit rules rather than partisan fronts. As a retired diplomat, I am particularly affronted by the Benghazi attacks. Their allegations were false and contrary to several expert reports that made it clear this was not the fault of Secretary Clinton nor of the White House. The experts demonstrated that the tragedy was the result of a series of low-level errors of judgment and the danger of Benghazi. This, by the way, happens all the time at home and abroad; remember September 11?

Now the “blame game” is starting again on Iran. The problem here is that, without a mutually beneficial agreement, there is a high probability that a war will start that no one can win. Costs will be horrendous for both sides and there will be many deaths, mostly of innocent people, women, and children. Further, it is clear to both sides that a “deal” is possible given that Iran wishes to forego nuclear weapons. If there is a bit of flexibility by all, a high level of verification, and willingness to abide by lower levels of enrichment and quantity, something may come of these talks. Already alternative paths towards this approach have been discussed and, given the promise of present restraints remaining in place as negotiations continue, we have little to lose and much to gain.

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