The Iran Deal: Is This Really the Endgame?

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Despite the uncertainties of recent weeks, the U.S. and Iran have now reached an historic, comprehensive accord on the nuclear issue. In this podcast, four analysts and observers of Iran, Middle Eastern politics, and U.S. foreign policy assess the state of the current deal, the implications of this accord and the consequences for the region. 

The Takeaways:

1.     While the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 is transactional in nature, it has historic, transformational implications for the Middle East and the world. 
2.     Although the deal limits Iran’s nuclear capacity, opposition in the U.S. Congress will likely focus on the threat that an unfettered Iran poses to the Middle East.
3.     With parliamentary elections approaching in Iran, the nuclear deal will bolster reformist minded candidates and threaten the long-held conservative hold of power.

For better or for worse, the agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 on July 14 was a historic occasion. If implemented, the deal will impact the domestic, regional, and global policies of Iran, the U.S., the members of the P5+1, countries throughout the Middle East and around the world.
             
While Mr. Einhorn acknowledged that “no negotiated deal is perfect,” and that all sides involved in the negotiations inevitably made painful compromises, he expressed confidence in the final agreement, stating that the U.S. did “pretty well” in addressing its major concerns. Under the newly agreed upon limits regarding Iran’s centrifuges and stockpiled uranium, Mr. Einhorn estimates that negotiators effectively extended Iran’s breakout time “from 2-3 months to at least a year.” Further, the new deal will open up Iran to an “unprecedented” level of monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), likely granting inspectors access to military facilities, documents, and Iranian scientists. Meanwhile, by securing the continued implementation of embargos on conventional arms transfers and ballistic missiles – for five and eight years respectively – the U.S. is able to ensure that Iran would not use its influx of currency to immediately buy up weapons. 

Beyond the technical details of the final agreement, Ms. Wright described the deal as “the most important agreement on proliferation in decades.” Further, while the deal was, at least on the surface, a transactional exchange of sanctions relief for transparency, Ms. Wright stated, “the real goal was transformational.” On the international and regional levels, the deal paves the way for Iran, the 18th largest country in the world, to be reintegrated into the global community and also advances the possibility that Iran and the U.S may eventually cooperate in resolving the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Ms. Wright also said that the deal may in time help spur on domestic changes in Iran. With parliamentary elections due to be held in February, she said that the nuclear deal could help reformist and centrist minded candidates win votes from Iran’s long-entrenched hardliners.

Continuing on with the transformational narrative, Dr. Litwak argued that in both Iran and the U.S., the nuclear negotiations served as “a proxy for more a more fundamental debate.” In Iran, the negotiations questioned how the country defines itself and its relationship with the rest of the world; namely: is Iran “a revolutionary state or an ordinary country?” In the U.S., the negotiations challenged how the country dealt with “rogue,” “outlier” states, and also called into question whether force and regime change were the only ways to change a country’s character. Dr. Litwak argued that the nuclear agreement is a deal, not a grand bargain. Though the nuclear accord is transactional, it is embedded in the broader issue of Iran’s societal evolution. Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei are each making a tacit bet. Obama is defending the deal in transactional terms (that it addresses a discrete urgent challenge), but betting that it will empower Iran’s moderate faction and put the country on a more favorable societal trajectory. Khamenei is making the opposite bet – that the regime can benefit from the transactional nature of the agreement (sanctions relief) and forestall the deal’s potentially transformational implications to preserve Iran’s revolutionary deep state.  Conversely, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei has hoped that an agreement would further protect the government’s hold on power by easing the country’s economic woes and pacifying what was an increasingly discontent civil base.               

As all the speakers noted, it is too soon to say what impact the nuclear agreement will have on the Middle East and the world. Will a deal empower a new generation of Iranian reformists or solidify the position of Iran’s hardliners? Will an agreement foster greater U.S.-Iran cooperation or empower Iranian proxies throughout the region? Will the deal result in greater peace or heightened conflict?

 

Speakers

  • Robert Einhorn

    Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution and former Special Advisor to the Secretary of State
  • Robert S. Litwak

    Senior Vice President and Director of International Security Studies
  • Robin Wright

    Robin Wright

    USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow
    Journalist and author/editor of eight books, and contributing writer for The New Yorker
  • Henri J. Barkey

    Former Director, Middle East Program