Outcome of Iranian nuclear deal to be decided in Washington

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Iranian boys play in park in the city of Bam following an earthquake 10 years ago that destroyed the historical citadel, a pre-Islamic desert structure that was the largest adobe monument in the world made of non-baked clay bricks, a thousand kilometres (600 miles) southeast of Tehran, on December 19, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Atta Kenare).

By: Ali Rizk

Published Sunday, January 19, 2014

The recent finalization of the interim deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Geneva is another positive step in the unprecedented “golden opportunity” to improve ties between Washington and Tehran. Yet while factors point towards a feasible outcome, recent developments have indicated the final decision will not be determined by Iran and the P5+1 players, but by the White House and Congress.

Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution, relations between the US and Iran have been obstructed by American ‘hubris’. This was clearly demonstrated during the era of former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, specifically in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. With Afghanistan being a neighboring country of Iran, Tehran possessed valuable intelligence that it shared with Washington during its war against the Taliban.

Even during the Bonn conference at the end of 2011, as international leaders (including current foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif) gathered to discuss how Afghanistan would be governed after the fall of the Taliban, both current and former US officials repeatedly highlighted the pivotal role played by Iran. Yet in spite of these Iranian gestures, former US president George Bush took the decision to categorize Iran as a member of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 state of the union speech.

This demonstration of American hubris may help to explain why many in Iran, including the supreme leader Ayotollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, are reluctant to believe that a genuine improvement of ties, brought about by a change from within the US, is actually possible.

But there are also factors which could help explain why Ayotollah Khamenei has so far supported the approach of recently-elected president Rouhani and Zarif.

First, the US, while remaining a superpower, is currently in a period of decline not seen since the end of the Cold War. Washington is in the process of adapting to a ‘multi-polar’ world order, made evident through the US-Russia agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile over going to war as US president Barak Obama had pledged.

Second, Obama as a 2008 presidential hopeful, was the only candidate to advocate a new era in relations between Iran and the US. Now in his second term, he will have more freedom to pursue his personal policy preferences. Furthermore, Obama is seeking to secure his legacy, and improved relations with Iran would do just that.

Afghanistan also plays a role, but this time in terms of a US military withdrawal rather than occupation. Withdrawing from war zones has become closely associated with the Obama foreign policy doctrine, so the anticipated pullout from Afghanistan is expected to be a critical milestone. What makes Afghanistan all the more important and significant for Obama than Iraq is that he considers the war on Afghanistan to be his ‘war of necessity’ targeting Al-Qaeda, through the presence of military bases used to launch drone attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Withdrawing – while also preventing extremists from controlling Afghanistan again – requires assistance from Iran.

All these factors help explain why Obama made that historic phone call to Rouhani following the UN General Assembly Summit last year. These factors also help explain why Obama has so vigorously defended his current policy towards Iran and threatened to veto the legislation sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez currently being circulated in Congress; legislation that threatens to increase and tighten sanctions on Iran in case it “violates the agreement” or in case of failure in reaching a comprehensive deal.

Therefore the completion of the interim agreement before Congress can adopt any further sanctions resolution is a point for Obama in his battle against Congress. And the White House - remembering how the American public led Congress and subsequently Obama himself, to abandon plans of a military attack on Syria - has seemingly embarked on a strategy of accusing those opposed to its policy of seeking to drag the country to war. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement: “The American people have been clear that they prefer a peaceful resolution. If certain members of Congress want the US to take military action, they should be up front with the American people and say so.”

Now the Menendez bill has the support of 59 senators of the 67 it needs to override the presidential veto, one should expect things to heat up between certain members of Congress and the White House. The former will do its best to demonize Iran, while the latter will try its hardest to show the path being advocated by those in Congress will undoubtedly ignite a war.

The winner of this particular battle will not just determine the fate of the nuclear deal, but the fate of US-Iranian bilateral ties, effectively impacting many places throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East. A unified US stance will prevent players like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and France from taking advantage of the US internal divisions and will ultimately lead to success between Iran and the P5+1.

How all this turns out will be decided in Washington, neither in Tehran nor in Geneva.

Ali Rizk is a journalist and commentator on political affairs.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.


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