Leaks suggest the comprehensive nuclear deal between major states and Iran is largely like its predecessor and does not give much reason for hope. If there are any clauses kept undisclosed by the two parties, it won’t be long before an angry politician or a probing journalist uncovers them, as happened with the previous agreement. The secrets of that accord came as a shock to many observers when they were revealed in 2015.
The Americans and Iranians have been at the negotiating table in Vienna for around eighteen months. Now, Iran’s Supreme Leader has only a few weeks left to make up his mind. The clock is ticking, and the phantom of Donald Trump and the GOP is casting its shadows on the Congress midterms next November. If the Democrats lose the majority in the Congress and the Senate, which is likely, the conclusion of the agreement could prove difficult, if not impossible. With the sense of urgency palpable in Vienna, the negotiation marathon halted. But, in fact, agreements have been reached on most of the main issues; all that’s left is ironing out the details where the devil lies.
The outcome will likely be a flawed agreement, no matter the arrangements agreed to that end: be it Iran conceding its demands to de-list the IRGC, South Korea handing Iran $7 billion, or Europeans releasing all convicted criminals associated with the regime. In my opinion, these concessions can certainly be regarded as flaws in the agreement, but they are not as dangerous as the laxity exhibited in dealing with Iran’s extra-territorial military activities in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza, Syria, and Afghanistan. It will only add fuel to the fire.
The conclusion of the agreement, the lifting of sanctions, and the silence on Iran’s military operations outside its territory will lead to heightened tensions and violence in the region, and the repercussions will stretch as far as the US and Europe. Conflict in the region will make a comeback, as will international alignments, while Sino-Russian activities in the region will only expand further.
A source familiar with the negotiations says the flaws in the agreement are explained by its urgency, with both parties striving to reach a practical agreement; one that is unburdened by inapplicable commitments. During the 2013 negotiations, the Obama team found itself in the same bind, striving to reach an agreement within 20 months. The negotiations were designed to conclude before the end of Obama’s presidential term, while in Iran, the Supreme Leader enjoyed the privilege of sitting on the throne forever, with all the time and powers he could possibly need.
Today, the negotiation team finds itself in the same boat. They defined limited goals to be achieved in the limited timeframe that the Biden administration has before the midterm elections. Some voices in the President’s own Democratic Party have already risen against a potentially weak agreement. In fact, 18 Democrat Congressmen have declared that they will not stand silent if the agreement does not meet the minimum requirements to combat organizational terrorism and Iran’s wars in the region. Then came writer Salman Rushdie’s assassination attempt by a man of Lebanese origin –likely a wolf of the IRGC and Hezbollah – to corner the US administration, despite Iran denying any connection to the crime.
What about the hypothesis that Iran does not want the agreement, but rather goes to the negotiations determined to procrastinate and turn the talks into a long and painstaking process for the other party?
The deal’s failure will mean prolonging Iran’s suffering and blockade, unless a country like China comes to its rescue and bolsters its economy with long-term contracts to buy its oil and finance its military institutions. In any case, an incomplete agreement is just as good as a failed one; both cause an escalation of the conflict.
A weak agreement has repercussions. Today, China has good relations with all parties to the conflict in the region for the sake of its economic interests. Yet its escalating dispute with Washington will make it prioritize its political calculations over its immediate economic interests.
Although Beijing is a de-facto partner of Tehran, it is likely that China will get closer to the Gulf Arab states, which may see the deal as a threat to their security if the Iranians sign the deal and open to the US. But such a turnaround in international relations is difficult to foresee.
One of the repercussions of the nuclear deal is its impact on the future of Iran’s regime. The current domestic situation suggests a potential change in approach or leadership. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal has driven Iranians into public disagreements, with Iranian conservatives leveling accusations of “stupidity” and “treason” to former President Rouhani and his foreign minister Zarif, even though the agreement was concluded with the approval and blessing of the Supreme Leader.