Since last Sunday's agreement in Geneva, many political figures and think tanks in the West have criticized Iran's deal with the P5+1 countries. In the UK, the London-based Henry Jackson Society has voiced deep reservations about the interim agreement. The organisation is a think tank active on foreign and defence policy. Its statement on Sunday’s nuclear deal warns of a “flawed” agreement that could subject western powers to “nuclear blackmail.” IranWire spoke to its political director, Davis Lewin, about the deal.
The Henry Jackson Society’s press release calls last Sunday’s deal in Geneva “flawed.” That’s quite moderate compared to what, for a example, Benjamin Netanyahu said when he called it “a historic mistake.”
It’s a semantic difference. It is a historic mistake. We tend to be British in our choice of words, as so perhaps you should just see it as a case of classic British understatement. It’s gravely flawed.
Can you outline what you see as the positives and negatives?
There are no positives. The negatives are very clear. Iran is not required to dismantle even a single piece of its nuclear program. It will be able to continue with all the elements that are required to progress toward a weapon. Whilst it has made some commitments to slow this progress down, it came out of this round with a piece of paper that says “You can keep what you have." It also, whatever the western diplomats assert, implicitly says "You’re allowed to enrich,” even if to 3.5 [per cent], but we all know that the lower stockpile can be converted, should they choose to forego whatever they’ve agreed to, relatively quickly.
On the economic side, it’s a catastrophe, because the very effective [sanctions] that got them to this place will be out of play. The only reason [Hassan Rouhani] got elected—and this is just an example of the way we don’t even look at the necessary details of this problem anymore—because of course it’s a joke, when it comes to Iran, calling it an election—is that they’ve really felt the pressure from sanctions. It is idiotic to have made a deal that takes off the pressure of the sanctions without getting anything. We’ve taken the pressure off and left their program intact, including, I might add, all of the elements that are widely acknowledged to have no use outside of a military application.
How much further could this deal have been pushed in terms of Iranian concessions?
It’s clear that there [was] what would amount to desperation on the Iranian side. If you were to be a “realist” in the sense of international relations, and you had to have some kind of face-saving measure, then that would be very different to having negotiated something where the substance remains as it has always been through the ten-year cycle of negotiations. They have bought time, at the point of maximum pressure, by easing off a little bit.
We didn’t try to see what happens when you let this economic malaise really take its effect. My own hunch is that you could have pushed much harder, and that it wouldn’t have mattered if [talks] had collapsed, because it’s very clear, if you look at the way that the Iranian people were reacting, that they blamed the regime for what was going on. I don’t think that it was necessary for us to, at this point, give anything. There are political dynamics at play that mean that this is what a number of western countries wanted, and hence they got the bad deal that they wanted because they wanted a deal now.
Which points would do you wish the negotiators had pressed harder?
Dismantle Arak, dismantle Fordow. No right to enrichment. Stay within the confines of the [United Nations] Security Council resolutions. Further reduction of the stockpile, and dismantling of the centrifuges. I would have personally liked to see no nuclear program at all, but if there is going to be one as some kind of face-saving measure, then [it would be] something significantly more constrained than what we have now. I would have liked to see something that takes at face value the realities of the program.
The deal was greeted with some celebration in Iran, not just over what might be termed “nuclear rights,” but also over hope for the future. One young Iranian wrote on her Facebook page, on Sunday,
“What a morning! Can I finally say I woke up to a day with horizons? With less threat of another possible war for my generation? Can I allow myself to recognize a light at the end of a life-long tunnel?”
The light at the end of the tunnel would be if this regime were to end, and there was true freedom in Iran, but one has to be careful not to fail to appreciate the realities under which the Iranian people live, and it is, of course, something that they would significantly welcome. At least you are now in a period when the boneheaded government that is abusing you is doing something that eases the pressure slightly.
The [Iranian] government has done this as a move of regime survival. It’s an illegitimate government. I’m sure if you had a longer and deeper conversation about the nature of this regime with the lady you mentioned, that it would very quickly become clear that there are any number of freedoms and desires that are unmet. I would hope that the West would press Iran to meet those desires as well as its nuclear obligations.
Some Iranians argue that the Rouhani government needs success in its nuclear endeavors in order to push forward social freedoms.
I find it exceptionally difficult to believe that Rouhani is a reformer, on account of his career. I would be astonished and delighted if that was the case. [But] we’ve seen the reform movie in the past, and it hasn’t panned out. These are not reformers, these people are tools of the system, and the system is ferocious. Sometimes it needs a more friendly front, and sometimes not. But we in the West should not be satisfied with that under any circumstances, and I don’t think the Iranian people will ultimately be satisfied with it.
Which section of the Iranian political spectrum will this deal benefit most?
It’s likely that the so-called reformists are going to be able to point to some successes as the economy eases now, but I think that actually it aids the system overall, and that is why the supreme leader is allowing it to happen.
What are the best and worst-case scenarios over the coming months?
The best-case scenario is a peaceful transition of power [from the current regime]. It is unfortunately unrealistic. The best-case scenario in reality is something whereby we would see pressure from the United States Congress, pressure from Israel and other regional powers that are unhappy with this, to ensure that we get on a road whereby the final status deal that is aimed at within six months does have the kind of teeth to guarantee that we are making progress and preventing the Iranians from having a bomb.
The worst case scenario is unfortunately more likely: The Iranians bag these concessions and get onto a North Korean-style recycling track whereby they [ask for] concessions for re-bagging every time we come to a juncture of negotiations, threatening to restart this or restart that, and we therefore offer more concessions, paying essentially to for them not to re-start the nuclear program, and at the same time, the regional picture becoming much more opportune for Iran once the pressure is off.
What would the options and alternatives be had the deal collapsed, or should it collapse in the future?
Further sanctions, more pressure on the Iranian economy, more pressure on the Iranian regime in that way. I would personally also like to see some linkage—not directly but as part of a package of negotiations—to the human rights angle, because a deal like this sells the Iranian people down the road. Now, it is acceptable in certain circumstances for international leaders to make negotiations and deals on the basis of single-track issues, but it seems to me unacceptable that this issue has fallen off the agenda completely since the Iranians were literally shouting from the rooftops for Obama to come and help them when they bravely stood up after the last fake election.
Do you think America is serous about “all options on the table?”
If you looked around as an ally [of the United States], I think you would probably come to the conclusion that there is no military option. I think that we are now negotiating under the only credible red lines left, which are those of Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel. I’m sure, if you were to ask the Iranians to look out on their western opponents, and ask them, “Which of these do you actually take seriously?” probably only the Israelis are left now.