Don’t take for granted that an agreement will be signed by the June 30 deadline
On October 14, 1981, the House of Representatives passed a resolution by an overwhelming 301 to 111 votes to disapprove the sale of AWACS radar planes and other weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Days later, the Reagan Administration proved that the executive branch is the most powerful lobbyist in Washington after it twisted enough Senate arms and necks to block the resolution of disapproval in the upper chamber by a narrow 52-48 vote.
Will the 34-year-old Capitol Hill script be followed one more time when Congress deliberates the Corker-Menendez Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act?1 The Senate has passed the relatively toothless legislation with an overwhelming 98-1 vote, and the bill will reach the House of Representatives floor in the near future.
In fact, House Speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying at a private Republican meeting in April that his party does not have enough votes to overcome a veto of any resolution disapproving the nuclear deal.2
At this stage, however, the “inside the Beltway” Washington bean-counting is pointless.
Obstacles to the Iran Agreement
It should not be taken for granted that an agreement will be signed by the June 30 deadline. Pay less attention to the Washington dramas. Bellicose Iranian declarations, U.S. Administration obfuscation on details, and events in the region may trip up the Iranian and P5+1 diplomats closeting in Vienna this week.
If – and it may be a big if – a nuclear agreement is reached, Congress will have much to ponder, in particular the vast gaps between hitherto disclosed American “fact sheet” details and Iranian leaders’ understandings and declarations.
- On April 9, 2015, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei told a large gathering that Iran will not allow any inspection of its defensive and military centers: “They (the foreigners) shouldn’t be allowed at all to penetrate into the country’s security and defensive boundaries under the pretext of supervision, and the country’s military officials are not permitted at all to allow the foreigners to cross these boundaries or stop the country’s defensive development under the pretext of supervision and inspection.”
- Elaborating on the April 2, 2015, “Lausanne framework” issued by Iran and the G5+1 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Khamenei stated, “I am neither in favor nor against it since nothing has happened yet and no binding issue has occurred between the two sides.”3
- “If there is no end to sanctions, there will not be an agreement,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on April 15, 2015. “The end of these negotiations and a signed deal must include a declaration of cancelling the oppressive sanctions on the great nation of Iran.” Iran wants sanctions, including UN sanctions as well as separate U.S. and EU sanctions, to be lifted immediately. The United States says sanctions against Iran will be removed gradually.4
- On May 9, 2015, the Iranian Supreme Leader’s representative at the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Ali Saeedi, declared, “There is no possibility for the inspection of military centers.” Inspections will be limited to Iranian provinces in which a part of the country’s nuclear fuel production cycle exists. “If they want to put their nose into other places within the framework of inspections, it will be against our national interests and security, and neither the Supreme Leader nor the parliament will allow this to happen,” Saeedi said.5
- On May 11, 2015, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and senior negotiator Seyed Abbas Araghchi rejected any inspection of Iranian military bases and sites. Araghchi also declared that all the economic and financial sanctions against Iran should be removed the very day a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is implemented.6
- On May 6, 2015, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham “stressed that her country would never accept an exceptional system of nuclear inspections in order to make a deal with the world powers possible. “We will not comply with an unconventional and exceptional system of inspections…”7
At a May 7, 2015, press conference, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin E. Dempsey was asked about the Iranian navy stopping a Marshall Island-flagged ship. He responded, “[W]e are concerned about their [Iranian] behavior. As I’ve said frequently, there’s about six things that concern me about Iran’s behavior: one of which is the nuclear issue. And I’m certainly supportive of the efforts to try to resolve that one diplomatically, but we’ll have other issues with Iran, whether it’s surrogates and proxies, weapons trafficking, ballistic missile development, cyber activity, and on occasion, their effort to threaten freedom of navigation.” [Emphasis added.]
Even under the U.S. military’s vigilant surveillance, Iran’s activities could derail the U.S. Administration’s fixated quest for an Iranian deal by June 30.
- Saudi security forces captured a vehicle crossing from Bahrain on May 8 with 31 kilograms of highly explosive materiel and other bomb-making components. Bahraini and Saudi officials suggested Iranian involvement in the terror attempt. Iranian currency and mobile phone chips were among the terrorists’ possessions.8
- The United States pressed Saudi Arabia for a ceasefire in Yemen that was supposed to begin on May 12. The Saudi-led air coalition unleashed a vicious bombardment hours before the ceasefire was to begin. Meanwhile, Iran’s proxies, the Yemeni Houthi rebels, struck across the border with mortars and Katyusha rockets, hitting Saudi citizens in Najran. It is uncertain if the ceasefire will last.
- Iran announced on May 11 that it sent a commercial ship with 2,500 tons of humanitarian aid, food and medicine to the Yemeni port of Hodeida. Iran issued a stern warning to the Saudi-led coalition against intercepting the ship. Iranian naval ships are already in the region, as well as Saudi and American ships, which have previously intercepted ships suspected of carrying Iranian weaponry to Yemen. Is a confrontation inevitable? Will there be repercussions for unhindered passage through the vital Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb straits?
The Iran-P5+1 negotiators have a difficult-enough task to find common-ground for a nuclear deal, but their mission is made much harder by Iran’s challenges to the United States’ “fact sheets” and by Iran’s boldness to commit crimes on the high seas and in neighboring countries. At what stage will Iranian impudence be too much for Congress, French negotiators, and perhaps even the Administration to bear?
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6 http://en.mehrnews.com/news/107135/Inspection-of-military-sites-impossible (with thanks to IMRA.org.il)