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Michael Jansen: Taking action
October 30, 2015
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While Tehran and the Obama administration are preparing for implementation of the Iran nuclear deal signed in July by the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, hard line Republicans in the US Congress are gearing up to undermine the agreement.

Senator and presidential candidate, Ted Cruz has criticised Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives speaker John Boehner for failing to take action against the agreement and threatens to punish banks that release frozen Iranian funds under its terms.

Cruz also argued that Congress should deny the administration the money to fund implementation of the deal. In an interview with Israel’s Jerusalem Post, Cruz warned that if a Hillary Clinton — who has been critical of the agreement — is elected president, “we know.... that Iran will acquire [nuclear] weapons.”

His line is scare mongering nonsense. Israel’s own nuclear commission has said the deal is sound and will prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons. Nevertheless, Cruz and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are past masters at repeating a lie often enough that people believe it, creating fear and loathing.

Unfortunately, there is a very real danger that a right wing Republican could be elected US president next November and, with the help, of a Republican-dominated Congress, sabotage the nuclear deal with Iran. 

To confront this danger, all seven signatories of the deal have to move quickly to implement as many of its provisions as possible before January 2017, when Barack Obama is set to vacate the White House. The steps are many and complicated and the process of carrying them out is long drawn-out.

The terms of the agreement took effect on Oct.18, formal “Adoption Day,” when all signatories were set to begin preparing for implementation. Obama did his part by issuing orders to administrators to begin issuing waivers for sanctions once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that Iran has honoured its obligations. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed the deal on the 21st but warned that for Iran to honour its obligations, the US and Europe must lift sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and damaged its oil sector. 

 The next step is “Implementation Day,” when the IAEA announces Iran has carried out its initial obligations, triggering the first round of sanctions relief. During the entire process, Iran is obliged to mothball 13,000 or two-thirds of its uranium enriching centrifuges, sell or dilute to less than 300kgs its 7,845kgs stockpile of five per cent enriched uranium, install intrusive monitoring systems to ensure the IAEA can monitor all nuclear-connected facilities, remove the core of the Arak heavy water reactor and fill it with concrete so no weapons-grade plutonium can be produced, end enrichment at the Fordow plan and turn it into a research facility. Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi predicted that these commitments would be implemented by the end of the year.  

The next date of importance is Dec.15 when the IAEA is set to report on how far Iran had progressed in nuclear weapons work before this aspect of the programme was abandoned in 2003. This has been a contentious issue between Tehran and the IAEA for years and must be resolved either by disclosure or agreement by the IAEA to drop the matter.

On this topic, the US has adopted a compromise. While Washington continues to demand full disclosure, officials say Iran is unlikely to admit that it had a weapons programme. Such an admission, the Obama administration told Congress, “Is not necessary for purposes of verifying [the current nuclear agreement] commitments” because the US already had sufficient information on Iran’s past activities.

While Iran deals with its obligations, the US treasury department must issue waivers for non-US firms to do business with Iran, focusing on the banking sector, oil exports, and investments in specified economic sectors. US companies would receive waivers dealing with limited commercial aircraft sales and handicrafts.

The European Union is also meant to work out a programme for terminating sanctions once “Implementation Day” comes. The US, China and Iran will also produce a plan for redesigning the Arak reactor so it can provide power or manufacture radioactive medical isotopes without producing weapons-grade plutonium.

 “Transition Day” is eight years from Adoption Day but could be earlier if the IAEA decides that all nuclear material and facilities are involved in peaceful activities. On this day, if Iran has complied with its obligations more of the punitive sanctions regime would be lifted. “Termination Day,” the end of the process, would be marked by a UN Security Council resolution.  

Although the roadmap is in place for all parties to follow, either Iran or the US, its principal antagonist, could disrupt the journey to termination at any time. Differences over monitoring, sanctions, and penalties could disrupt the process of dismantling Iran’s nuclear programme.

Furthermore, partisan politics could intrude and disrupt the process. Tehran is rightly concerned that Washington could impose sanctions for reasons outside the ambit of the nuclear deal. Three issues currently at dispute are Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and human rights abuses. 

Fresh sanctions on such issues could prompt Iran to suspend dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure. While the US insists on continuous IAEA monitoring of Iran’s nuclear programme, Iran has adopted a law calling for constant surveillance of US sanctions relief with the aim of ensuring that Washington is meeting its commitments and that the US is not interfering in the easing or ending of sanctions by other countries. This is a serious concern because the US Treasury Department holds the key to ending sanctions on banks doing business with Iran, allowing payment transfers and opening up letters of credit.

Strong commitments made by both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Obama to the deal could provide momentum for early, faithful implementation. Delay could offer opponents in both countries opportunities to disrupt the process. Furthermore, Obama is entering his last 14 months in office, providing Rouhani with a narrow window of opportunity to move forward. Both Rouhani and Obama will, however, have the support of Europe, India, China, and Japan, countries which demand early easing of sanctions and full normalisation of relations with Iran, an eventuality which is likely to benefit the UAE, particularly Dubai, as a leading regional commercial hub.
____________________________________________
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict
 

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