The Risks of Easing Sanctions for an Interim Iran deal
Nov 21, 2013
November 20, 2013
Number 11/13 #03
With talks between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) resuming in Geneva last night, this Update deals with a key aspect of the six-month interim deal that is reportedly being discussed in Geneva – namely, the proposal to ease sanctions as the “carrot” to lure Iran to agree to a partial freeze on its nuclear weapons program.
First up is author and expert on the Iranian nuclear issue Emanuele Ottolenghi. Writing on the New York Times website, he argues that sanctions have been effective and it would be premature to lift them until Iran has actually started to comply with its international legal obligations – something the interim deal will not accomplish. He also notes that the specific sanctions relief being discussed will disproportionately benefit Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s business empire and thus empower the most hardline elements of the regime. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE. In another recent piece, Ottolenghi analyses Iranian President Rouhani’s recent behaviour and finds little sign of more than ” superficial rebranding” in the changed Iranian approach.
Next up is former US senior official Douglas Feith who uses examples from history to argue that the idea that sanctions can be lifted now but re-imposed later if needed is fanciful. He discusses the post-World War I Versailles treaty, US-Soviet disputes under the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. His key argument is that undemocratic interlocutors routinely cheat on agreements but democratic states have an unavoidable tendency to find excuses to forgive, ignore or define away such cheating, and thus the cheater usually avoids any significant punishment. It’s a provocative argument, and to read it all, CLICK HERE.
The final piece comes from Israeli proliferation specialist Dr. Emily Landau. She discusses Washington’s fear that discussion by Congress of additional sanctions now will be seen as a sign of bad faith by Iran and jeopardise the talks. She argues these fears are misplaced, notes that similar fears were expressed before biting sanctions passed last year but these actually brought Iran to the table, and concludes that it is only the threat of additional sanctions that offer hope of a viable nuclear deal. She has much more worth reading to say, and to read all of it, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- An excellent dissection of other apparent problems with the deal being negotiated at Geneva from American Law Professor Orde Kittrie.
- Washington Institute head Dr. Robert Satloff says the Washington-Jerusalem public disagreement on Iran is ” one of the biggest U.S.-Israel blowups, ever”. Washington Institute colleague Michael Eisenstadt offers some analysis of why a successful nuclear agreement is going to be very hard to achieve.
- Former US Secretary of State George Shultz offers some advice on negotiating with Iran from his own arms control experiences with the Soviets under Reagan.
- Israeli academic expert and former diplomat Dore Gold explains in a video why Iran’s argument that it has a “right” to enrich uranium is baseless and must not be conceded.
- A US poll shows most Americans support easing sanctions for a nuclear deal, but most are sceptical it will halt Iran’s nuclear drive.
- Elliot Abrams on the lack of evidence that a much-cited Fatwa prohibiting nuclear weapons from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even exists.
- Excellent analysis of the murderous attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on Tuesday from Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker and Israeli experts interviewed by the Times of Israel.
- Another major suicide attack on Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. Meanwhile, Richard Spencer of the UK Telegraph offers a dramatic eyewitness account of the deteriorating situation in Sinai.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Or Avi-Guy explains how a UN interpreter revealed some unappealing truths about the UN. Plus, news about an effort by Australia and five other countries to do something about UN discrimination against Israel.
- Sharyn Mittelman on Israeli aid efforts in the Philippines winning plaudits.
New York Times, November 19, 2013, 9:49 PM
Despite a checkered past, sanctions have finally brought Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program — but they have not inflicted enough damage on Iran’s economy to alter Iran’s resolve to achieve nuclear weapons’ capability. Now is not the time to relent their pressure.
Initially intended as targeted restrictions against Iran’s nuclear procurement efforts, sanctions have gradually expanded to target Iran’s economy. Their impact exceeded their advocates’ predictions. Within months, oil sanctions brought Iran’s official crude sales down by 40 percent. Financial and banking sanctions depleted Iran’s declared foreign currency reserves and triggered a dramatic depreciation of Iran’s currency. Iran’s car industry, Iran’s second-most-important economic sector, took a 40 percent plunge this year. And a European ban on liquid natural gas technology exports grounded Iran’s ambitions to develop its largely untapped gas sector. Sanctions have hurt so much, that NIGC, Iran’s national gas company, reportedly declared bankruptcy this week.
Sanctions had three key goals: disrupt and delay Iranian procurement efforts so as to slow down Iran’s nuclear program, increase Western leverage in negotiations, and use the growing economic pain inflicted upon Iran’s economy to change the nuclear cost-and-benefit calculus of Iran’s rulers. By crippling Iran’s economy, sanctions have finally convinced Iran to re-engage in meaningful negotiations for the first time since 2004.
But sanctions relief now would be premature.
Iran has not complied yet with any of its international obligations. Its negotiators seek sanctions relief in exchange for reversible concessions that will leave Iran’s nuclear breakout capacity intact. Likely Western concessions would enable Iran to replenish its foreign currency reserves through gold sanctions relief. They would relieve three sectors – petrochemicals, cars and aviation – that are largely controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader’s business empire.
Thus, the regime constituents least likely to support accommodation with the West and most invested in Iran’s nuclear weapons’ quest will benefit from these measures long before Iran’s nuclear threat is neutralized. Besides, given the dual-use nature of car industry and petrochemical technology, the regime would not only benefit financially, but it could regain access to critical components of the nuclear program it is currently finding hard to procure.
This is the worst possible disincentive for Iran at a time when its military nuclear program is dangerously close to completion.
Sanctions have worked until now – Western leverage has increased; Iran’s cost-and-benefit analysis has changed; its leaders’ willingness to concede has increased. Now is not the time to discard a diplomatic tool that has worked so well – the time for sanctions relief begins when Iran agrees to live up to its international obligations.
Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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Arms control in action: The bad guys cheat, and democracies do nothing.
President Obama wants Iran to suspend parts of its nuclear program in return for easing international economic sanctions. Critics contend that if the West strikes a deal along these lines, Iran could cheat far more easily than the rest of the world could reinstate tough sanctions. But Mr. Obama insists that relaxing sanctions is reversible: If the Iranians are “not following through,” he recently told NBC News, “We can crank that dial back up.”
Peace and arms-control agreements have a long history that warns against such assurances. Democratic countries have time and again failed to get what they bargained for with their undemocratic antagonists—and then found themselves unable or unwilling to enforce the bargain.
After World War I, the Versailles and Locarno Treaties subjected Germany to arms-control measures, including demilitarization of the Rhineland. When Germany’s Nazi regime boldly remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, neither Britain, France nor any other treaty party took enforcement action.
This and other 20th-century incidents led U.S. strategist Fred Iklé to write a prescient 1961 “Foreign Affairs” article titled “After Detection—What?” He argued: “In entering into an arms-control agreement, we must know not only that we are technically capable of detecting a violation but also that we or the rest of the world will be politically, legally and militarily in a position to react effectively if a violation is discovered.” Iklé foresaw that the Soviets would violate their agreements, and that U.S. presidents would find it difficult or impossible to remedy the violations.
Nevertheless, the U.S. made a series of arms-control treaties with the Soviets. When the predicted violations occurred, no enforcement actions were even attempted.
During the Reagan administration, U.S. officials detected a huge radar in the Soviet city of Krasnoyarsk that violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Despite his reputation as an arms-control skeptic and anti-Soviet hard-liner, Reagan concluded he had no good options other than to complain. The U.S. continued to adhere to the treaty for another 16 years, until President George W. Bush withdrew for reasons unrelated to violations.
Another democracy that has failed to enforce agreements is Israel. When Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was asked what Israel would do if the agreement were violated. He declared it was “reversible,” assuring skeptics that if the PLO broke its peace pledges, Israel would not only stop territorial withdrawals, but retake the land already traded.
The PLO promptly violated Oslo in various ways, most egregiously by launching the Second Intifada in 2000. But no Israeli government—on the left or right—ever terminated the Accords, let alone reversed any withdrawals.
What typically happens with such agreements is the following: On the democratic side, political leaders hype the agreement to their voters as a proud diplomatic achievement. The nondemocratic side—typically an aggressive, dishonest party—cheats.
The democratic leaders have no desire to detect the violation because they don’t want to admit that they oversold the agreement or, for other reasons, they don’t want to disrupt relations with the other side. If they can’t ignore the violation, they will claim the evidence is inconclusive. But if it is conclusive, they will belittle the significance of the offense. Officials on the democratic side sometimes even act as de facto defense attorneys for the cheaters.
Recall the Krasnoyarsk case. Some U.S. officials in internal administration meetings in which I participated said we should not accuse the Soviets of violating the ABM Treaty simply because they built the football-field-size radar. Rather, they disgracefully but brazenly argued, we should wait until the Soviets turned it on.
When PLO officials in the 1990s breached Oslo by inciting anti-Israel hatred and supporting terrorism, the Israelis who had made the deal offered similarly disgraceful excuses along the lines of: “We don’t care what they say, only what they do,” and “You have to make peace with your enemies, not with your friends.”
An agreement that actually dismantled the Iranian nuclear program would be a formidable accomplishment. But if Mr. Obama can justify his deal with Iran only by promising to “crank up” the relaxed sanctions if and when the Iranian regime cheats, no one should buy it. History teaches that we should expect the cheating, but not effective enforcement.
Mr. Feith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, served as U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy (2001-05) and is the author of “War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism” (Harper, 2008).
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Iran is desperate for relief from sanctions, a fact that gives P5+1 the upper hand.
The last round of P5+1-Iran talks saw some high drama. On the second day, strong hints of a pending deal were bolstered by reports that the foreign ministers of the P5+1 were making their way to Geneva. But then, as quickly as expectations had risen, they rapidly began to dissipate, and the talks finally ended without a deal. The details of the P5+1 draft proposal are being kept under wraps, but clearly the French foreign minister introduced some crucial input to the text when he arrived in Geneva – regarding the facility at Arak, and the question of Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its soil. Faced with the altered proposal, the Iranians said they needed more time.
For years, those who have negotiated on behalf of the international community with Iran on the nuclear issue have suffered a debilitating weakness at the table due to their dependence on a negotiated settlement in order to achieve their goal of stopping Iran. All the while, Iran itself was never similarly tied to a negotiated deal, and could move unilaterally to its goal. For a long time this enabled Iran to use negotiations tactically in order to play for time, while simultaneously pushing forward its nuclear program.
For the first time, this situation is changing. The latest talks underscore that the impact of biting sanctions has made Iran also dependent on a negotiated settlement. It cannot get desperately needed sanctions relief without cooperating with the international community, a fact which should strengthen the hand of the P5+1 negotiators.
In the last round there were some indications that these states were indeed assuming the lead. For example, discussion focused on a P5+1 proposal, rather than Zarif’s PowerPoint presentation from mid-October. And once France’s reservations were incorporated into the P5+1 draft, they were quickly approved by all six parties, leaving no internal divisions for Iran to exploit.
So why is the Obama administration adamantly opposing further pressure on Iran? Kerry insists that if new sanctions are passed by Congress they would be viewed as bad faith by the Iranians, destroy the prospect of getting an agreement, and could even lead to military confrontation, presumably by pushing Iran to make a dash to the bomb.
These concerns are an exaggeration. Similar fears were raised before the biting 2012 sanctions were put in place, but they did not push Iran to exit the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; rather, the pressure brought Iran back to the table, in line with its rational cost-benefit approach on the nuclear front. Indeed, the most likely result of further pressure would be Iran’s realization that it is not only dependent on the P5+1 for the relief it seeks, but that the pressure card will continue to be played. This would actually enhance the ability of the P5+1 to get the deal they want. Moreover, in the highly unlikely event that Iran were to react by rushing to the bomb, the regime would expose itself as having lied and cheated all along. Iran knows that this could trigger military action, in line with declared U.S. policy.
Clearly the United States greatly fears being put in a position where it would have no choice but to strike Iran militarily, but giving voice to this fear unfortunately risks weakening its hand, just at the time when it has finally become stronger. The United States is also concerned, as Kerry noted, that additional sanctions could wind up setting the United States back in dialogue that is has taken 30 years to achieve. But American concerns about squandering the long-term prospect of a changed bilateral U.S.-Iranian relationship should not interfere with the immediate focus on the nuclear file.
Iran is currently looking for a deal that will allow it to regain economic viability, while not giving up its ability to move toward a military nuclear capability. The original clause on Arak – that would have prevented Iran from commissioning the facility for six months, but would have allowed for continued construction work – is Iran’s tactic in a nutshell. To make “concessions” that are not concessions at all, because Iran was not on track to commission the facility in the next six months, but certainly wanted to be able to continue construction work so that it would be ready to do so later in 2014. And in return, to get sanctions lifted.
The only chance the P5+1 have to get the nuclear deal they want is by keeping Iran dependent on a negotiated deal for the sanctions relief they desperately need. It’s the last chance for a good deal, and the P5+1 should not surrender any of the leverage they have worked so hard to gain, before getting the results they seek. These states are today collectively much stronger than they might realize; it would be a grave mistake to succumb to unrealistic fears when steadfast determination is the order of the day.
Dr. Emily B. Landau is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). She is the author of “Decade of Diplomacy: Negotiations with Iran and North Korea and the Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation” (2012).