Opinion

The Great Debate

An Iran nuclear deal is a win for U.S.

For the first time in decades, there is momentum in the nuclear talks with Iran. A deal looks within reach.

In the recent round of negotiations in Geneva, six world powers and Iran made significant progress on an agreement that will verifiably limit Tehran’s nuclear program. But maintaining this progress and reaching an agreement is by no means a sure thing. In Washington, hawkish members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, could sabotage a deal by demanding Iran make concessions that are unrealistic.

The deal discussed in Geneva is a good first step toward addressing the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities. This agreement between Iran and the P5+1 — the five permanent United Nations Security Council members (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany — would limit Iran’s most dangerous nuclear activities and lead to a transparent, verifiable compact that would guard against a nuclear Iran. It would also be a good deal for U.S. national security interests, solving the Iran nuclear standoff without resorting to military action that would likely provoke another costly conflict in the Middle East.

It should come in two phases: an initial agreement followed by a comprehensive deal. The first part would pause Iran’s nuclear progress, limit the most proliferation-sensitive activities and impose more stringent monitoring and verification mechanisms. This is a realistic formula that will give the international community the assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful. It would also establish early detection of any potential deviations.

In return, Washington should put meaningful sanctions relief on the table to address Iran’s most pressing concern — its devastated economy. The relief reportedly proposed in Geneva would amount to less than $10 billion — a small fraction of the amount Iran has lost under the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the international community, but enough to allow Iran to sell a deal domestically.

Too many cooks in the Iran nuclear kitchen

Last weekend, after years of failed negotiations, the “P5+1” nations — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany — finally appeared to be on the verge of a deal with Iran regarding curbs on its nuclear program.

All except France were ready to sign a stopgap agreement that would offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return for a freeze in its nuclear program. But Paris torpedoed the arrangement at the last moment — denigrating it as “a sucker’s deal.”

France’s torpedoing of the agreement appears less related to genuine nuclear proliferation concerns than with trying to curry favor with anti-Iranian countries — like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – who commission and buy expensive French military, satellite and nuclear hardware.  The lesson in this latest failure is there ought to be a single point of contact with Iran endowed with executive authority over resolving the nuclear issue.

Looking to diplomacy with Iran

President Barack Obama has decided to test whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “charm offensive” is a legitimate effort to reach an agreement on a more constricted and transparent Iranian nuclear program. With this decision, he embarks on the most transformative and important diplomatic initiative of his presidency.

The closest historical analogy is President Richard M. Nixon’s opening to China in 1971. Nixon had recognized a major adversary’s new willingness to change course and he seized the opportunity to further vital U.S. national security interests.

This China analogy, however, has some flaws. Most important, Nixon and his national security adviser Henry A. Kissinger began their quest in secrecy to avoid a divisive public debate that could have scuttled the initiative. Obama’s public commitment to test an opening to Iran, though, will be subjected to fierce scrutiny by domestic and foreign opponents.

The danger in shutting down national security

The nation awoke Tuesday to find much of the federal government closed for business. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had refused to fund essential government functions until the rest of Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to reverse a healthcare law passed three years ago and deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. By doing so, they put reversing healthcare reform ahead of protecting the nation.

Hundreds of thousands of national security professionals are now on furlough. The latest Office of Management and Budget guidance notes no function has been discontinued that would “imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.” The Defense Department made clear that “military personnel would continue in normal duty status.”

But even furloughing “non-essential personnel” undermines U.S. security. It hits three critical areas: the Defense Department’s civilian employees, the intelligence community and the agencies that respond to health emergencies.

from David Rohde:

The key stumbling blocks U.S. and Iran face

A historic phone call Friday between the presidents of the United States and Iran could mark the end of 34 years of enmity.

Or it could be another missed opportunity.

In the weeks ahead, clear signs will emerge whether a diplomatic breakthrough is possible. Here are several key areas that could determine success or failure:

Enrichment in Iran?

Throughout his New York “charm offensive,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made one demand clear: Tehran will rebuff any agreement that does not allow it to enrich some uranium.

IAEA and Iran: Resolving the nuclear impasse

President Hassan Rouhani generated a positive buzz yesterday with his United Nations General Assembly statements about Iran’s determination to resolve the nuclear impasse with the international community. Though he argued Tehran was not prepared to give up its enrichment program, the new president declared “nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security,” adding that his government was now committed to “time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency” to resolve any doubts.

While this lays the basis for the resumption of negotiations with the United States and its allies, we need not await the results to test Rouhani’s sincerity. That can begin Friday, September 27, when Iranian and International Atomic Energy Agency officials sit down in Vienna in a long-scheduled meeting to break the protracted deadlock over unanswered questions about the breadth of Tehran’s nuclear enterprise.

Director General Yukiya Amano summed up the stakes in his September 9 statement to the IAEA’s board of governors: “The agency has not been able to begin substantive work with Iran on resolving outstanding issues, including those related to possible military dimensions on Iran’s nuclear programme.” The Vienna talks now provide the best opportunity to make progress.

For U.S.-Iran, it’s all in the timing

Four years after President Barack Obama famously extended his hand of friendship to Iran, Tehran finally seems willing to unclench its fist. The most decisive geopolitical handshake of this decade may take place today at the United Nations.

Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and Obama may have this encounter at the luncheon of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday or in the U.N building’s corridors.

This new opening has taken the world by surprise. Washington’s dual track policy over the past three years — a combination of a little bit of diplomacy and a whole lot of strangulating sanctions — has produced a hardening of the Iranian position. Tehran’s nuclear activities have continued unabated, while its regional policies, particularly its support for the Assad regime in Syria, have intensified.

On U.S.-Iran deal, devil is in the details

The feel-good mood engendered by promising overtures from Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a settlement in the Iranian nuclear crisis. But the devil — especially in this case — is in the details.

The nuts-and-bolts of Iran’s nuclear program, and whether Tehran can give guarantees that it is not designed to make nuclear weapons will determine whether a deal with the United States is possible.

Here is a look at what Iran has achieved in a decade of intense nuclear work; what the main areas of concern are, and how the Iranian program can be reined in to give adequate guarantees that Iran does not seek the bomb.

from David Rohde:

Iran’s offer is genuine — and fleeting

President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday is not expected to generate much excitement. Battered by his uneven handling of Syria, no bold foreign policy initiatives are likely.

Instead, the undisputed diplomatic rock star of the gathering will be Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani. In his first six weeks in office, the cleric has carried out one of the most aggressive charm offensives in the 34-year history of the Islamic Republic. And the Obama administration responded Thursday, saying the president would be open to having a meeting in New York.

If Obama and Rouhani, who will both address the assembly on Tuesday, simply shake hands in public, it will be the seminal event of the gathering’s first day.

A potential turning point for Syria

In the dizzying debate over U.S. military intervention in Syria, one key point of consensus stands out: Both the Obama administration and Congress recognize that the resolution to Syria’s conflict must come through a negotiated settlement. Key international actors share the same conclusion.

But how do we get there? Russia’s recent proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control could open a viable path to a long-sought diplomatic solution.

This initiative is a long shot. Yet, its potential payoff as a diplomatic breakthrough demands it be taken seriously. Not only would Syrian civilians be spared any unintended consequences of U.S. military intervention, but the Russian proposal’s successful implementation could be a real turning point.

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