How Much of a Game Changer is the Iran Nuclear Deal? Flynt Leverett and Seyed Mohammad Marandi on RT’s CrossTalk


The University of Tehran’s Seyed Mohammad Marandi, on RT’s CrossTalk—click on the above video or see here and (YouTube) here—made an important point not widely recognized in American discussions of the Iran nuclear deal:  For the Islamic Republic, the main payoff from the nuclear deal was not, first and foremost, sanctions relief.  Rather,

“For Iran, what was important was to have a peaceful nuclear program.  So, the notion that Iran’s path towards a nuclear weapons is blocked is fine for Iranians because it’s not what they were doing in the first place.  The biggest gain for Iran here was the fact that its peaceful nuclear program, and the fuel cycle, was recognized

This vindicates Iran’s policy over the past decade.  After 2003-2005, when Iran basically gave up everything and the United States failed to come to any sort of reasonable agreement with Iran, Iran felt it had no option but to push forward heavily to advance its peaceful nuclear program.  And that’s what gave Iran the bargaining chips that was able to use, during the recent negotiations that ended a few days ago, to get what it wanted

Despite the difficulties and despite the hardship [Iranians] went through because of the sanctions, the biggest victory is that [Iran] basically forced the United States to the negotiating table.  And it has forced the United States to annul the UN Security Council resolutions—and none of those resolutions has ever been applied in Iran.  In other words, the demand was that Iran end its enrichment of uranium, and Iran never did so.”

While, as Mohammad points out, this is “a major shift in American foreign policy,” it is not clear how much of a strategic game-changer that shift will prove to be.  On this point, Flynt notes

“As someone who, along with my wife, has for years been arguing, inside the U.S. government and since we left the U.S. government, that the United States, for its own interests, needs to realign fundamentally its relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran, what happened in Vienna is obviously a very, very positive step.  But it is just a step.  And it begs the question of whether the United States can—as we outline in our book, Going to Tehran—really make the kind of commitment to a comprehensive revision of U.S. relations with Iran, somewhat analogous to the way that Richard Nixon recast America’s China policy in the early 1970s.

That’s the kind of real strategic revision that is critical to halt the accelerating deterioration in the U.S. position in the Middle East—and, on a less nationalistic basis, to put the Middle East itself on a more positive trajectory, with serious conflict resolution in various regional venues.  That’s the key challenge for the United States right now: can it really build on this opening that the nuclear agreement represents?  I think the nuclear agreement is fine, in and of itself, but the real strategic payoffs, the real benefits from this will only come if the United States can take these bigger steps as the nuclear agreement is implemented.”

The discussion is worth watching in its entirety.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett  

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Iran and the United States after the Nuclear Deal: Hillary Mann Leverett, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, and Seyed Mohammad Marandi on CCTV’s The Heat

Now that the P5+1 and Iran have concluded their Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it is important to look not just at how the parties will go about implementing the deal but also at the JCPOA’s strategic impact.  Hillary, the University of Tehran’s Seyed Mohammad Marandi, and Princeton University’s Seyed Hossein Mousavian engaged in a good discussion of these issues on CCTV’s The Heat, see here or click on the above videos.

Mohammad underlines what—not just from an Iranian perspective but from any perspective that values the possibility of rules-based international order—is certainly a key aspect of the JCPOA’s long-term significance:

“For the first time, really, the United States has been forced to accept the Iranian peaceful nuclear programI think that is the most significant thing to come out of this…Despite the United States forcing the UN Security Council, in previous years, to impose sanctions on the country, and despite the fact that the United States applied punitive sanctions itself, and threatened other countries with sanctions if they did business with Iran, despite all that, ultimately the United States had to accept Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.  And we have to remember that, in the past, the United States was saying that Iran did not have the right to enrich uranium…

The fact that Iran has been able to retain its peaceful nuclear program shows Iran’s inherent strength as an independent country.  And I think it also vindicates the fact that Iran continued to pursue its peaceful nuclear program over the past few years.  This has given Iran the capability to have a strong hand at the negotiating table.”

As for the JCPOA’s impact on U.S.-Iranian relations, Hillary explains that this will depend very much on how Washington presents the JCPOA to its own public and the extent to which the agreement prompts a fundamental revision of U.S. strategy toward the Middle East:

“[The Obama administration] may try to sell it as a narrow arms control agreement.  Well, there’s never going to be an agreement that’s good enough to contain what many in Washington see as this unreconstructed, ‘evil’ state, I think that’s going to fail.  And I think that the attempt to say, ‘Well, the Iranians are going to abide by this, so you don’t have to worry,’ and, in the meantime, we’re going to continue to sell billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and Israel—while Iran still has the arms embargo in place—could make for a more destabilized region, a more highly militarized region.”

Similarly, Mohammad points out that, if the United States were ready to “rethink” its policy toward the Middle East and toward Iran,

“if the United States changes its behavior toward the country, it would benefit a great deal.  But we have to also keep in mind that the United States is still imposing a large number of sanctions against the country.  U.S. policy in the region is still in conflict with that of Iran, because of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia and Turkey in their support for al-Qa’ida.  So, Iranian-U.S. relations are pretty poor, and I don’t think they will change very quickly.”

As Hillary underscores, the only way to reap the full potential benefit of the JCPOA is for the United States to pursue real, “Nixon to China” rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  But, at the moment, there is no consensus in favor of that within the Obama administration.

The discussion is worth watching in its entirety.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

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Flynt Leverett from Vienna: Iran Deal Essential for More Constructive, Humane Middle East Policy

From Vienna, Flynt Leverett outlined on DemocracyNow how the Iran deal is an essential step towards a more constructive, humane U.S. approach to the Middle East. Click here or on video above to listen. The transcript is here:

Iran has reached a nuclear deal with the United States and five major world powers, capping more than a decade of negotiations. Under the deal, sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on its nuclear program. The deal allows Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear program, but aims to prevent Tehran from ever developing nuclear weapons. Earlier this morning in a national address that was also broadcast on Iranian television, President Obama said every pathway for Iran to a nuclear weapon has been cut off. Obama vowed to veto any congressional legislation to block the deal. Under the nuclear deal, sanctions on Iran could be reinstated in 65 days if the deal is violated. A U.N. weapons embargo is to remain in place for five years, and a ban on buying missile technology will remain for eight years.

We go now to Vienna, where we are joined by Flynt Leverett, author of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran and professor of international affairs at Penn State. He served for over a decade in the U.S. government as a senior analyst at the CIA, a Middle East specialist for the State Department and as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.

AMY GOODMAN: Iran has reached a nuclear deal with the United States and five major world powers, capping more than a decade of negotiations. Under the deal, sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on its nuclear program. The deal allows Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear program, but aims to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons. Earlier this morning in a national address that was also broadcast on Iranian television, President Obama said every pathway for Iran to a nuclear weapon has been cut off.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. … This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off. And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place.

Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb. Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb, and store them under constant international supervision. Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium. To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon.

AMY GOODMAN: During his speech, President Obama vowed to veto any congressional legislation to block the deal. The Iran nuclear agreement came after Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Secretary Javad Zarif spent more than two weeks in negotiations. Speaking in Vienna, Zarif described the day as an “historic moment.”

JAVAD ZARIF: Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to everybody, to those who started this process and those who have continued this process in order to reach a win-win solution on what, in our view, was an unnecessary crisis, and open new horizons for dealing with serious problems that affect our international community. I believe this is a historic moment. We are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody, but it is what we could accomplish, and it is an important achievement for all of us. Today could have been the end of hope on this issue, but now we are starting a new chapter of hope.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the deal, sanctions on Iran could be reinstated in 65 days if the deal is violated. A U.N. weapons embargo is to remain in place for five years, and a ban on buying missile technology will remain for eight years. Despite these measures, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a “bad mistake of historic proportions.”

We go now to Vienna, where we’re joined again by Flynt Leverett, author of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran. He’s a professor of international affairs at Penn State; served for over a decade in the U.S. government as a senior analyst at the CIA, a Middle East specialist for the State Department and as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.

Well, Flynt, we spoke yesterday. Today, the deal has been reached. Can you tell us the outlines of it and your reaction to it?

FLYNT LEVERETT: I think the outlines, I would emphasize three main sets of commitments. On the Iranian side, of course, there are a number of commitments spelled out relatively early on in the agreement—all totaled, 159 pages with the annexes. But there is a set of commitments that Iran undertakes regarding certain limits on its nuclear activities that will address nonproliferation concerns that the United States and some other countries have had. As an analyst, I have personally never been persuaded that Iran was seeking to build a nuclear weapon, but for those who are concerned about that possibility or that risk, I think this is a very good deal from a nonproliferation standpoint.

At the same time, in terms of nuclear commitments, I think Iran has achieved something very significant here, which is basically a recognition of the reality that states have a right to a peaceful use of civil nuclear technology in all respects. This is not a right that is granted by the Non-Proliferation Treaty; it is a sovereign right that’s recognized by the treaty. From an Iranian perspective, the United States and the Security Council tried for years to deny Iran that right. And now, without Iran having sacrificed it, the international community is recognizing that right, and I think that’s an important step on the nonproliferation front, as well.

The second big set of commitments concerns sanctions relief. In return for Iran accepting these limits on its nuclear capabilities, all international sanctions authorized by the United Nations Security Council are going to be removed. European Union sanctions against Iran will be terminated. And the United States will, the language says, cease implementing its secondary sanctions, the sanctions that it threatens to impose on third countries that do business with Iran. The United States will stop implementing those sanctions, although they are likely to stay authorized in American law for some period of years. The president, President Obama, basically will waive the implementation of those sanctions. So I think that’s another second set of commitments.

And then there’s a third set of commitments related to implementing this deal. And basically, the agreement sets up processes, committees, commissions that will oversee the implementation of this deal. There’s a special committee set up to deal with the issue of inspections, with the International Atomic Energy Agency asked to visit a nonnuclear site that it doesn’t regularly inspect, and Iran is uncomfortable about that happening. There is now a committee process laid out which will, you know, review why does the IAEA want to come to this site, what is the basis for their concern, what are Iran’s concerns about letting the agency in, and, you know, will weigh those and ultimately adjudicate or arbitrate those kinds of situations, if they arrive.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about what’s going to happen in Congress right now, a battle royale. Now, President Obama has already, in his national address, said he will veto any rejection of this. And then it will go, of course, back to Congress to try to overturn his veto. But for those who say this is a terrorist nation, that it doesn’t stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb but simply delays it 10 or 15 years down the road, your response?

FLYNT LEVERETT: You know, I think, for people who say that, you know, I think they really—the burden of proof should be on them to prove that it is actually Iran’s intent to build nuclear weapons and that the kinds of—you know, even after this deal runs out, Iran is still going to be bound by the obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to build nuclear weapons. I went to work for the U.S. government in 1992 and have been hearing ever since, from Israeli intelligence agencies, from U.S. intelligence agencies, that Iran is three to five years away from being able to build a nuclear weapon. And every year we just push that—we just push that three- to five-year estimate further, further out. You know, I think at this point we really need to ask ourselves, is Iran—does Iran really have the intention to build a nuclear weapon? And I don’t think there is any evidence that they do.

AMY GOODMAN: And to those who say now, with the sanctions lifted, it will simply be able to give more support, for example, to Bashar al-Assad of Syria, talk about an issue you ended with yesterday in our conversation, which was your feeling that President Obama is selling this in the wrong way, that it should be talked overall about a shifting of U.S. policy in the Middle East. But begin with that issue of those who say this is a terrorist nation supporting terrorists, and now they’ll have more money to do that.

FLYNT LEVERETT: My wife and I have been arguing for years, both inside the U.S. government when we served there and in the years since we left government, that the United States, for its own interests, needs to come to terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Relying overly much on partnerships with Israel and Saudi Arabia is increasingly dysfunctional for the U.S. position in the region. It is breeding jihadi terrorism across the region. It is enabling open-ended Israeli occupation of Arab populations. All of that is ultimately bad for the United States. The only way the United States can recover from the many tragic mistakes it has made in this part of the world in recent years, and put itself on a more positive trajectory, is by coming to terms with Iran. Iran is a rising regional power. It is a legitimate political order for most Iranians who live inside their country. We need to come to terms with that reality.

AMY GOODMAN: There was a discussion in the media today, those who are saying Iran is involved with something like four wars, you know, against the United States. But, in fact, that is not exactly true, is it, Flynt Leverett? I mean, look at Iraq. The U.S. is working on the side of Iran.

FLYNT LEVERETT: If you look at the constituencies that Iran supports in these various arenas, we may want to label them terrorists, but the reality is, these are unavoidable constituencies in their societies with real and legitimate grievances. And what Iran does more than anything else is to help these communities organize in various ways to press their grievances more effectively. That’s why Iran’s influence is rising.

If we want to be serious about conflict resolution in Syria, not about funding, working with the Saudis to fund jihadi militants that end up coalescing into either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, if we want to get serious about conflict resolution in Syria, we need to be talking with and working in a serious way with Iran. If we want to get serious about conflict resolution in Iraq and dealing with the Islamic State in a serious and effective way, we need to stop just letting the Saudis and helping the Saudis fund the jihadi militants that create these groups, and we need to work with Iran to devise a regional strategy to contain that threat.

It is an extremely unpopular thing to say in the United States. My wife and I have paid various kinds of personal and professional prices for making this argument over the years. But the reality is, if the United States is going to have a more effective foreign policy in the Middle East—and, frankly, a more humane and constructive foreign policy in the Middle East—rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran is essential to that end.

AMY GOODMAN: Flynt Leverett, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of international affairs at Penn State, formerly worked with the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the National Security Council, co-author, with his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett, of the book, Going to Tehran.

From: http://www.democracynow.org/2015/7/14/could_historic_iran_nuclear_deal_transform.

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From Vienna, Flynt Leverett Analyzes the Iran Talks on DemocracyNow and, From Washington, Hillary Leverett on MSNBC


 

From Vienna, Flynt shared his take today with DemocracyNow, see here or click on the video above, on what President Obama has the chance to achieve with an Iran deal and the state of play at the talks.  From Washington, Hillary provided her analysis to MSNBC, see here or click on the video above.  A transcript of Flynt’s analysis follows:

AMY GOODMAN:…We go to Vienna, Austria, where we’re joined by Flynt Leverett, who’s there following the talks, author of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran. He’s a professor of international affairs at Penn State, served for over a decade in the U.S. government as a senior analyst at the CIA, a Middle East specialist for the State Department and as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council. Flynt Leverett, what is happening at this moment in Vienna?

FLYNT LEVERETT: I believe that a final agreement is going to be reached here. What we’re watching now is a very, very slow, excruciatingly slow, process. The negotiators here have basically finished their work. Texts have gone back to national capitals for final review. And especially on the U.S. side, this process of review within the Obama administration is moving along very, very slowly. To the best of my knowledge, the White House has not come back with specific concerns, specific points that it wants, in effect, to renegotiate, but it seems like the Obama administration is being very deliberate, to say the least, in reviewing the work that is done here. And that means—you know, if one of the parties is slow, it means it delays the time at which people can produce final text, text that can basically be released to the world when the parties are ready to announce. That’s what we’re watching right now. But I still think we’re going to get to a final agreement very soon.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the main issues that are in this agreement and those left to resolve?

FLYNT LEVERETT: Yes. The main issues, which, to the best of my understanding, have been resolved, are the nature of the limits on its nuclear activities that Iran will observe while an agreement is in place; the pace and scope of sanctions relief for Iran, sanctions lifting, has been worked out. Over the last few days, the main issues that needed to be worked through concern precise terms on specific parts of a new United Nations Security Council that will nullify previous resolutions related to the Iran nuclear issue, remove international sanctions against Iran authorized by the Security Council, including the arms embargo, and formally launch implementation of this agreement. To the best of my understanding, the negotiators here have basically reached an understanding about the terms of the Security Council resolution, but, as I said, it’s being reviewed in national capitals, and that review process is going especially slowly in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the pending Iranian nuclear deal being sought by the international negotiators. This is what he said.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Iran does not hide its intention to continue its murderous aggression, even against those with which it is negotiating. Perhaps there is somebody among the powers who is willing to capitulate to the reality that Iran is dictating, which includes its repeated calls for the destruction of Israel. We will not accept this.

AMY GOODMAN: Flynt Leverett, your response?

FLYNT LEVERETT: Well, certainly no surprise that Prime Minister Netanyahu would say that. America’s traditional allies in the region—Israel and Saudi Arabia—both have been working to undermine a deal. Even if they are not able to stop a deal—and I don’t think they will be—they are working very hard to put as much pressure as possible on the United States so that a nuclear agreement doesn’t become a critical first step in a broader realignment of U.S.-Iranian relations.

My own view, my wife and I, both in government and in the years since we left government, have argued vociferously that, for its own interest, the United States desperately needs to come to terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, this increasingly important power in the Middle East. It needs to balance its traditional, but increasingly dysfunctional, relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia with strategically grounded engagement with Iran. This nuclear deal could be a critical first step in that direction. It’s one of the reasons that I’m here, to try and help make that argument.

But, you know, there are a lot of pressures on the Obama administration, and I’m not sure there’s a real consensus within the administration to use a nuclear agreement, which, as I said, I think we will get here within relatively short order—I don’t think there’s that kind of consensus within the administration to use a deal as the springboard for what I think is an imperative realignment of U.S. relations with Iran. The U.S. needs to revamp its approach to the Middle East. And a critical, essential step in that revamping will be realigning U.S. relations with Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the Obama administration will have a difficult time convincing Congress to approve a deal with Iran.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: Well, look, we already know that it’s going to leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state. We know that. It appears as if the administration’s approach to this was to reach whatever agreement the Iranians are willing to enter into. So I think it’s going to be a very hard sell, if it’s completed, in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: The Republican majority is expected to vote against the deal and to try to convince at least 12 Democrats to join their ranks in an attempt to defeat a presidential veto. Flynt Leverett, explain what has to happen in the United States for the U.S. to approve this. What is the voting that will take place?

FLYNT LEVERETT: Both houses of Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement once it’s finalized. I think it is quite possible, if not likely, that a simple majority of members in each house will vote a so-called resolution of disapproval in regard to the agreement. At that point, President Obama has said that he would veto those resolutions of disapproval. And at this point, the White House seems pretty confident that they have the votes, at least in the Senate, and perhaps in the House, as well, to sustain President Obama’s veto. So, they are confident that if you can get to an agreement here in Vienna, that it will ultimately get through the congressional review process and will go into effect.

But obviously, during the next—you know, the 60 days following a conclusion of an agreement, the Israelis, the Saudis, their friends and allies in the American political system, others who don’t want to see this agreement go forward are going to be working very hard, trying to turn public opinion against the deal and trying to build congressional support to maximize the vote against the deal.

Public opinion polls would show that Americans are open to supporting this deal, but one of the things I really worry about is that President Obama himself has not really made the strategic case for why doing this deal and for why building a different kind of relationship with Iran is so strongly in America’s interest. He either talks about this as a kind of narrow arms control agreement, but Iran is still this very bad actor, or he talks about it in terms of it being an opportunity for Iran to rejoin the international community, as he puts it. This is not the way to sell this deal to Americans. Americans understand that what the United States has been doing in the Middle East for the last decade and a half has actually been profoundly against American interests. It’s also been very damaging to Middle Easterners. But it has been profoundly damaging to America’s position in this critical part of the world and globally. President Obama has a chance here to begin to turn that around and put U.S. policy toward the Middle East on a more different and more productive trajectory, but he is going to have to make the strategic case and spend the political capital necessary to make the strategic case.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we’ll continue to follow this, of course.

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Beneath the Negotiating Endgame in Vienna: Hillary Mann Leverett and Seyed Mohammad Marandi on CCTV’s The Heat


As the world waits to see if the P5+1 and Iran can, in fact, conclude a comprehensive nuclear deal, it is important to step back from the not just day-by-day, but minute-by-minute coverage of comings and goings at the Palais Coburg in Vienna and think about what is really at stake in the negotiating endgame.  To this end, we post here a very good discussion of these issues by Hillary and the University of Tehran’s Seyed Mohammad Marandi on CCTV’s The Heat, see here or click on videos above.  (Like Mohammad, Flynt is currently in Vienna for the nuclear talks.)

The most critical of the remaining issues to be resolved by the parties relate to the terms of a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would negate previous Security Council resolutions dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue, remove Security Council-authorized international sanctions against Iran, and formally start implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal.  As both Hillary and Mohammad point out, underneath discussions about the modalities for removing international sanctions, whether and how to lift the conventional arms embargo against Iran, and related matters are more fundamental issues:

–Can the United States, for its own interests, abandon its increasingly self-damaging quest to dominate the Middle East and adopt a more reality-based strategy toward this critical part of the world?

–Can the United States, for its own interests, finally accept the Islamic Republic of Iran as a legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests, and genuinely come to terms with this already indispensable and still rising actor in the Middle East?

–In the process, can the United States, for its own interests, replace its longstanding reliance on Israel and Saudi Arabia as its key “partners” in the Middle East with a more balanced approach characterized by strategically-grounded diplomacy with all major regional players?

Let’s see what happens in Vienna.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett 

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