The only safe way to make a nuclear deal with Iran

July 6, 2015
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a hotel in Vienna

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (L-3rd L) meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R) at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

In the concluding week of nuclear talks among the United States, other members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and Iran, negotiators are struggling with key details on one of the most contentious matters: How sanctions would be re-imposed, or quickly snapped back into place, if Iran cheated.

Critics of the emerging deal contend that re-imposing sanctions is unlikely, and thus Iran will have little incentive to adhere to a deal. But snapback could be a credible deterrent to cheating if the United States and the other international negotiators insist on four key principles: disproportionality, autonomy, automatic response and innovation.

A successful agreement is by far the best way to reduce Iran’s nuclear threat. But for any deal to work, Tehran needs to know that if it cheats, economic pain will return in full force.

Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Salehi talk outside with aides after a morning negotiation session with U.S. Secretary of State Kerry in Lausanne

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (C on left) and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi (C on right) talk outside with aides after a morning negotiation session in Lausanne, March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

President Barack Obama has said that the international community should not have to “jump through a whole bunch of hoops” to again shut Iran out of the global economy. The world powers have reportedly agreed to use the U.N.  Security Council sanctions as a framework for snapback. But that is not enough.

Disproportionality is the first principle required to make the threat of re-imposed sanctions credible. Even a small Iranian violation should trigger a massive re-imposition of sanctions. If Iran were to cheat, it would likely start small, as Tehran tested the resolve of the international community.

The United States and its allies cannot accept a situation in which Iran whittled away at its nuclear obligations while avoiding economic costs. Snapback provisions should make clear that even one-off violations would result in cutting off Iran’s banks from the global financial system and curtailing all oil sales.

Autonomy is the second principle that must be followed. Washington policymakers must make clear to Tehran that U.S. sanctions would be re-imposed if Iran cheated — even if Iran’s allies manage to block re-imposition of U.N.  sanctions. Though other negotiators, including Russia and China, are on the same page on snapback, the diplomatic reality is that U.N. processes are often slow and subject to political pressure.

French Foreign Minister Fabius talks to journalists in Vienna

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius talks to journalists as he arrives at the nuclear talks between Tehran and six world powers in Vienna, Austria, June 27, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The United States and its European Union allies must signal a willingness to go it alone on sanctions if necessary. This can be an effective deterrent, even if Iran can persuade an ally on the Security Council to delay or block U.N. sanctions snapback.

Iran would understand this economic threat. Security Council resolutions put key limits on Iran’s nuclear procurement, but Iran’s economic pain is largely due to the oil and financial sanctions that the United States and the European Union have imposed since 2010.

An automatic response is the third principle. Sanctions should be re-imposed automatically as soon as a violation is identified. U.S. negotiators have said they recognize the importance of a rapid response. Here, Washington and its allies would need to fight on two fronts: make the re-imposition of U.N. sanctions as swift as anything can be in the United Nations, and ensure that U.S. and EU sanctions would automatically be in place within weeks after an Iranian violation is detected.

Walter Steinmeier, Kerry, Hammond and Fabius talk after Secretary Hammond made a statement about their meeting regarding recent negotiations with Iran over Iran's nuclear program in London

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier (L), U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L), British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (R) talk after a meeting about Iran’s nuclear program in London, England, March 21, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Innovation is the fourth point. Imposing the multilateral sanctions against Iran required complex negotiations, and no international coalition can exactly replicate this pressure strategy. Nor should it. Sanctions must not be merely re-imposed if Iran cheated — new sanctions must go further.

Iran’s economy has adapted under the sanctions regime, and Iran is always learning new potential evasive techniques. The restrictions that successfully cut off financial flows and investments five years ago would likely not have the same effect today. Keeping the pressure of sanctions credible means updating all threatened restrictions to match Iran’s evolving economic landscape.

The United States has a compelling interest in reaching a nuclear deal that curtails Iran’s nuclear-weapons capability. Sanctions relief, particularly early sanctions relief, can be a fair price to pay for a deal that actually rolls back Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But the insurance policy is the plausible threat of painful sanctions and economic isolation. Building the mechanism for an overwhelming sanctions snapback, and the political support to act disproportionately, autonomously, automatically and innovatively, is crucial for success.

5 comments

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Come on P5+1 you are neutering and humiliating the Iranians. Will you be surprised if they run away from the table as fast as they can?

Sins you, the P5+1 are so concerned about nuclear weapons what are you going to do about the loose cannons and terror states Pakistan and North Korea?

Posted by cynical175 | Report as abusive

What else can be expected from a Rosenberg or a Stein, or a Shultz or a Wolfowitz or a Ross towards Iran? These guys are only capable of clinging to America knowing fully well that today Russia has become an enemy. It is Russia which is posing a direct threat to America and Europe, not Iran. And China will tacitly support Russia in case of a conflict. Rosenberg does not care about this. Why should we care?

Posted by Dhirajkunar | Report as abusive

Look, once the deal is done financial sanctions do not return because business is first and foremost the true constituency of congress. So, sanctions will be as harmful to business (some anyway – who can lobby) that our leaders will not want to upset them. Why do you think the DFL always sells the country out? Because they too, like the GOP, only care about the wealthy owners and the people are just slaves.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

The only way to get any kind of deal with the madmen in Iran is to impose ever stricter sanctions until they give in. Iran is playing us, and every delay, every subterfuge means the centrifuges are spinning away making more fissile material to make more nuclear weapons to be used on the west.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

The paranoia over Iran is ridiculous. Iran is at least leading the fight against ISIS. What is Israel doing about ISIS? Nothing. How many soldiers did Israel contribute to Iraq? Zero. How about in Afghanistan? Zero.

We are on the wrong side over there. Saudi Arabia and Israel and Pakistan…. as allies? Iran is the only reliable country over there. And none of the 9/11 hi-jackers were Iranian. NONE. Thirteen of them were Saudi. Time to re-align and pick the right side.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive