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 program. I 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