Iran nuclear talks: Deal or not? And what may happen under both scenarios

How would you asses the impact of the possible successful conclusion of Iran nuclear talks on the broader Middle East and maybe also beyond? And if the talks fail, what kind of impact do you expect? Read few comments.

Wayne White, Scholar, Middle East InstitutePolicy Expert, Washington’s Middle East Policy Council

As we have known all along, the ultimate fate of any final agreement emerging from prolonged P-5+1 nuclear talks with Iran will be determined by political forces in Iran and the US.  Back on May 7 the US Congress, with both Republican and Democratic support, overwhelmingly passed legislation requiring a Congressional review of a final deal.  Although Democrats signaled at that time that Republican efforts to scuttle a deal probably would not gather enough votes to override a presidential veto, the 30-day review process (and its aftermath) could become very ugly and cast a shadow over the agreement.  Meanwhile, on the Iranian side, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has declared redlines that Iranian negotiators have been crossing in their quest to close a deal.  Although Khamenei’s unhelpful declarations appear mostly rhetorical, it is not entirely certain they can be completely ignored in the final analysis.

Also, skeptics or opponents have reason to be concerned.  Issues fundamental to an effective agreement with Iran remain very much in contention right up to and past previous deadlines.  These include the timing of Iranian sanctions relief, IAEA access to Iranian sites possibly associated with Iran’s nuclear agreement (particularly military facilities), Iran’s access to missile-related technology, and possibly access to any Iranian nuclear weapons related research.   To be credible, all these issues ultimately must be addressed to the satisfaction of the P-5+1 (and possibly, on one side especially, also to a wary US Congress).

Although Secretary John Kerry says the US remains prepared to “walk away” from an agreement that fails to achieve sufficient closure on these important issues, the Obama Administration in fact appears loathe to do so.  Consequently, there is some chance US negotiators might go a bit too far to accommodate Iranian concerns to avoid failure—at least in the eyes of the many US skeptics and accord opponents.  In that scenario, the post-agreement battle between the White House and the Republican dominated Congress could be extremely nasty.

Therefore, although deadlines have come and gone, the overall issue remains in doubt—both at the negotiating table and, perhaps more importantly, back in Washington and Tehran.

Jamsheed Choksy, Professor, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University Bloomington

Many Iranians, Europeans, and Americans, though not all, desire a positive, enforceable, verifiable, lasting, and honorable outcome to the ongoing nuclear negotiations. A final deal is indeed possible, one which would remove the economic sanctions on Iran while halting that nation’s nuclear developments–especially military-related ones–for many years. Such an agreement, already outlined by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in early April, could indeed mark a new chapter in Iran-US relations perhaps setting the stage for gradual normalization of relations which have been largely non-existent since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. If a deal is indeed reached soon between the negotiators of Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna, subsequently accepted by the American and Iranian presidents, by Iran’s supreme leader, and by the US Congress and Iranian Majles or parliament, and the agreement is completely and swiftly implemented including full verification by the IAEA, then the West and the rest of the Middle East will be relived that Iran is not continuing its march toward atomic weapons while Iranians will reap the socio-economic benefits of renewed and unfettered access to the world. The deal will also be major political triumphs for Presidents Obama and Rouhani, both of whom have staked their political prestige and legacies on achieving this breakthrough.

There remains considerable opposition to an agreement of this sort–not only from conservative factions within the US, EU, and Iran, but also in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel. So demonstrating that the agreement is indeed one under which Iran’s future nuclear actions are fully verifiable will be absolutely essential. Likewise, Iranians would need to be convinced that their national sovereignty has not been encroached upon let alone ceded and that sanctions will come to a quick end.

If a comprehensive nuclear agreement is not finalized by tomorrow’s deadline, there are likely to be lots of threats by the West not only about amplifying sanctions but initiating military hostilities. However, it is not likely that the US and EU will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the near term–despite possibly threatening to do so to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and to pressure Tehran to accept a deal. It is more likely, as has happened previously, the present talks could be extended or new ones planned.

Iran and the P5+1 have come too far, bridged many differences, and committed too much effort to permit negotiations to completely collapse. World economic are anticipating the positive benefits of a deal–oil prices are falling, for example. So expect either a full or partial deal or at the very least definite steps toward future negations. All sides know a deal is indeed within reach.

James Goode, Professor of History, Grand Valley State University

The US has chosen to take up the most difficult of all issues with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The two countries face a variety of lesser problems, any one of which might have been addressed first in order to build trust between the two longtime foes.   A series of smaller, trust-building agreements could have smoothed the way for dealing with the nuclear issue.  Nevertheless, the US chose to tackle the hardest problem from the beginning, and much depends on the outcome.

If the talks succeed, broader relations between Tehran and Washington could improve in many directions.  Already there have been suggestions of reestablishing cultural contacts between the two countries.  For many Americans today, most of whom have no personal experience of Iran, that distant nation has become the other, the unknown; it, thus, becomes very difficult to debunk anti-Iranian charges made in the media and in Congress.  With increasing exchange, this intercultural ignorance should decline, expanding prospects for better understanding at all levels.

Iran has assumed an important regional position, where it exerts considerable soft—as well as hard–power.  An agreement with the P5+1 states will help to reassure Iran’s leaders that its significance is recognized and that it can play an increasingly constructive role in the Gulf and surrounding lands.

Although some US allies, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, will criticize such an agreement, ultimately it could provide a basis for greater stability in the region with Iran pursuing more constructive policies.  Tehran, for example, might be more willing to support a transformation in Syria, leading to the replacement of its longtime ally, Bashir al-Assad.

Failure of the talks could bring disaster.  It would surely increase the leverage of hardliners in Washington and Tehran, who have consistently picked away at the negotiators, trying as they might to stymie progress.  This could lead to more isolation for Iran and raise the risk of military confrontation.  Iran’s influence among its neighbors would not cease, but it would likely assume a more aggressive stance.  The Persian Gulf region would become less stable as would the Arab regimes along its shores.  Ending the negotiations without an agreement might speed up nuclear development within Iran.

Jalil RoshandelAssociate Professor, Director of Security Studie, East Carolina University

Iran’s return to normal relations with the West will have two major impacts on its immediate neighbors and broader Middle Eastern countries: political / security as well as economic / financial; while major gains for Iran is economic in nature.

Iran’s possible nuclear deal with P5+1 will, among other things, release an estimated of 100 Billion Dollars in frozen assets and will help normalization of Iran’s economic relation with the West. This will mean increase in the production and exportation of Iran’s oil and gas and a laundry list of importation and exportation of consumer goods currently restrained because of sanctions. So we are in fact talking about a possible 300 Billion dollars injected into Iran’s economy.

The most important changes has to be seen inside Iran. These can vary from increased chances for employment and new jobs to expanded claims of civil society rights to even more challenges toward the nature of the existing political system in which internal cleavages is expanding on a day to day basis.

This enormous economic relief will enable Iran to advance its agenda not only in technology and military arena, but also in long term strategic planning and regional power game. Some Middle Eastern countries will directly benefit and some other will be negatively affected by such a change.

Here we present three examples among such countries:

A-   Turkey- Turkey has a long standing peaceful relation with Iran since seventeen century that with some nuances continues even today. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Turkey proved to be a major and reliable partner for Iran in facilitating its access to Europe and creating solid economic ties with Iran that was a major help against Saddam Hussein’s aggression.

Today, Turkey has close to 15 Billion Dollars (annually) of economic transactions with Iran expected to increase to 30 Billion. It will therefore benefit immensely from an Iran that is no more contained by sanctions. However, Turkey as an old member of NATO, does not want to see a strong military competition in its Eastern borders. It opposes Iran’s nuclear capability, while agrees with peaceful use of nuclear technology and wishes herself to benefit from the same.

B-    Saudi Arabia- Saudis as the custodians of the two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina are Sunni Muslims that differ with the type of Islam in Iran known as Shia. The first leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 questioned Saudi Kingdom’s legitimacy as the guardians of the holy places and that has created a history of hostility between the two countries. Iran also supports a minority group of Saudi Shi’ites who live in oil regions of Saudi Arabia.

In most recent times, Iran’s support for Syria’s regime and its President Bashar Assad (Alavite Muslim closer to Shi’ite than Sunnis) and further more Iran’s support for Yemen’s rising Houthi militants is considered a hostile action against Saudis. (The Huthi Muslims are considered a branch of Shi’ites).

In addition, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are members of OPEC and removal of sanction will enable Iran to assume more active role in OPEC and increase its oil production. This will be a major competition for Saudi economy.

Saudis oppose Iran’s expanding role in the region and believe that Iran’s nuclear capability should be destroyed even by military means. In other word, seen from Saudi Arabia, the lifting of sanctions against Iran will transform Iran to a bigger threat to regional stability and should therefore be confronted.

C-    Israel’s positions has always been to strongly oppose the removal of sanctions against Iran based on the assumption that economic ease will push Iran toward faster achievement of nuclear bomb that they eventually used against Iran. It is unclear if Iran’s deal with the West will accelerate development of a weapon system to be used against Israel. Iran has paid tremendously high price to get to this point, but in International politics nothing can be taken lightly.

Even though there are some areas of competition in economic arena, it seems like Iran’s deal with the West and its possible rapprochement with the United States will have a major impact on US-Israel relation and that exactly what the Israelis are trying to fend off.

In the past and until 1979, Iran had close ties to the United States and friendly relations with Israel. What may satisfy Israel is some sort of De Facto recognition of the existence of Israel by Iranians.  That may look hard to achieve without fundamental changes in Israeli- Palestinian relation that Iran appears to be more concerned about.

D-   I am not expecting the failure of the negotiation. So far the more the extension is extended the chances for it to succeed increases. The deal, for sure has mutual benefits and no one seems interested to give up a deal that at the very least can increase options for economic gains. But, yet, if it fails it will only go steps back and start from another point. Military response will not be an option despite the fact that it has been spoken about so many times.

Alex VatankaScholar, Middle East Institute

Both the Iranians and the Obama administration have invested huge political capital in these negotiations. I don’t think either side will sign a “bad” deal but it is hard for me to see these talks break down. Some kind of a deal will be reached. The question is will it be sustainable after the Obama administration leaves office. This is the big question.

In the event of a failure, I don’t see the Obama administration taken any military action unless the Iranians move fast toward weaponizing which I doubt. They are very cautious and will not weaponize openly anytime soon. The big question is who will be blamed for a diplomatic failure. If Washington is blamed then keeping international sanctions in place will be much harder going forward and that is a win for Iran.

Jonathan SchanzerVice President of Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

There will be an uptick in the flow of funds to Iran backed Middle Wast terror groups if there is a deal. There will be an uptick in the flow of funds to Iran backed Middle East terror groups if there is no deal.

If the sanctions relief goes through and Iran finds itself with a surplus of roughly $150 billion, there is little doubt that a chunk of that will go to Hezbollah, Hamas, PIJ, Kataib Hezbollah and others. Even if only 10 percent of those funds go to terror groups, that’s still $150 million.

If a deal does not happen, Iran is bound to double down on its strategy of backing terror groups worldwide as a means to challenge the West and destabilize the Middle East.

This is the core problem with the JCPOA: it doesn’t address the fundamental nature of the Iranian regime, which is founded and built upon radical ideology and support for extremist causes.

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