Iran is about to get out of the United Nations doghouse.
For nine years, Tehran has been an international pariah, the target of wide-ranging sanctions imposed in response to its flagrant and routine violations of U.N. resolutions designed to suspend its nuclear program.
But on Monday, the U.N. Security Council is virtually certain to unanimously pass a new resolution codifying key elements of Tehran’s nuclear pact with Washington and other key powers that formally ends Iran’s standing as a serial violator of the world body’s edicts, providing a U.N.-backed road map to Iran’s reintegration into the international financial system.
Under the new resolution, Iran will continue to be subject to a range of temporary sanctions and restrictions on its nuclear activities, including the most intrusive nuclear inspection regime in the world. And it will have to take a number of painful steps over the next three months to scale back its nuclear activities in exchange for more than $100 billion in sanctions relief in the coming months. The U.S. and other key powers, meanwhile, will retain the power to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it cheats.
But unless or until Tehran violates the nuclear pact, it will no longer have to wear the label of an international scofflaw for continuing to enrich uranium, albeit it will have to enrich its nuclear fuel at a far more limited level than in the past.
For now, it remains unclear how transformative the nuclear deal will be with regard to Iran’s relationship with the United States and other Western powers. President Barack Obama and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have cautioned that the nuclear rapprochement does not signal a fundamental change in the relationship between the two historic enemies. Iran has made it clear that it will continue to support regional proxies and allies, including Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad, that Washington considers terrorists. The U.S. will continue to provide military and politically backing to Iran’s regional rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“We’re still adversaries. We’re not allies and friends by any means,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Fox News’s Chris Wallace on Sunday, noting that Khamenei has vowed continuing animosity towards the United States. But he said “we believe that Israel, we believe the region will ultimately be safer with this deal.”
“Now, if we don’t do this deal. If Congress says no to this deal, then there will be no restraints on Iran, there will be no sanctions left, our friends in this effort will desert us and we will be viewed as having killed the opportunity to stop them from having a weapon,” he said. “They will begin to enrich again and the greater likelihood is what the president said the other day: you’ll have a war.”
Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian Council, a Foreign Policy contributor and one of the most outspoken boosters of the Iranian deal, said that he expected Washington and Tehran to continue to issue strong public denunciations of one another even as they work together to implement the nuclear deal.
But Parsi believes that the arduous process of implementing the nuclear deal, which will play over at least the next decade, will force the long-time rivals into a routine that could slowly build confidence between them and potentially reshape the relationship over time. “The fact is the parties to this deal want to make it work; they have a political interest to make problems get resolved,” he said. Beyond that, Parsi said, both sides “have made a strategic decision to find a different relationship. There is now a new mechanism for building trust over a long period of time that has never existed before.”
Still, suspicions that Iran still harbors long term ambitions to build a nuclear bomb run deep.
“Iran is not back in everyone’s good books yet,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the U.N. at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. “The United States and Europeans, and above all Israel, will be watching very closely for signs that it is breaking the nuclear deal. I think that this suspicion will last some time yet.” According to Gowan, the nuclear deal could actually introduce new stresses into the relationship. Over the short term, he suspects Iran would continue to stage “lots of ideological fights with the United States over things like human rights, to show that it has not been humiliated.” Critics in Washington, meanwhile, are committed to undoing the deal.
The move to endorse the nuclear deal at the U.N. Security Council has rankled both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who remain deeply skeptical about the nuclear pact negotiated in Vienna and feel that the U.S. Congress should have been given the first opportunity to review the accord.
Last week, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the committee’s top Democrat, Benjamin Cardin (Md.) wrote a letter pressing Obama to postpone a U.N. vote on the nuclear pact until Congress is given a chance to review, and ultimately accept or reject the deal, before the U.N. acts. “I don’t know why they are going to the United Nations,” Cardin said on Fox News on Sunday morning, claiming he didn’t believe the move was consistent with the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which mandated a Congressional review of the Iran deal.
Cardin said that he still hasn’t made up his mind whether to support the Iran deal. His decision, he said, would be based on whether the agreement offers a “better shot of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state or not. It’s not a matter of what party I belong to; it’s not a matter of supporting the president. The question is what is in the best interest of this country.”
But Republicans, who largely oppose the nuclear accord, were scathing of the president’s decision to go to the U.N. “The president shouldn’t do an end-run around Congress and the American people to go to the U.N. Security Council of the United Nations before we act,” Senator John Barrasso (R-Wy.) told Fox.
Republicans directed their criticism on provisions of the new U.N. Security Council resolution lifting an arms and ballistic missile ban on Iran in five and eight years, respectively, and allowing Iran 24 days to contest inspections by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The provision falls shorts of assurances made previously by Obama administration officials who pledged that IAEA inspectors would have access to suspected Iranian nuclear facilities “anywhere, anytime.”
In April, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, told reporters that international inspectors would be able to conduct snap inspections into nuclear sites. “We expect to have anywhere, anytime access. Moniz told Bloomberg News. Kerry and Moniz appeared on all the key Sunday talk shows to defend the nuclear pact. They will brief Congress on the deal later this week.
But Kerry denied the U.S. has every maintained such a position in the negotiations. “We never talked about anywhere, anytime,” he told Fox. “This is a term, that honestly I have never heard in the four years that we were negotiating. It was not on the table. There is no such thing in arms control as any time, anywhere.”
Moniz, speaking on the same program, sought to clarify his remarks, saying “I said access anytime, anywhere in the sense of a well-defined procedure and a well-defined window.” In any event, Moniz, said that IAEA inspectors would be able to detect evidence of uranium traces even if the Iranians tried to cover their tracks. If “nuclear activities have taken place it is virtually impossible to clean up that place,” he said. “You can paint the floor, you can do what you want. We feel very confident that one would find the evidence of nuclear activity.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also hit the Sunday talk shows in an effort to convince the United States to renegotiate a tougher deal with Iran that would ensure it would stop funding terrorism in the Middle East and stop threatening Israel’s security.
“I think the right thing to do is merely not to go ahead with this deal,” said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think this is a very bad deal with a very bad regime.”
Nuclear proliferation experts have been divided about the merits of the nuclear deal, with some experts, including Foreign Policy contributor Jeffrey Lewis, who characterized the nuclear accord reached in Vienna as a “pretty damned good deal.”
But other experts have been finding fault with the agreement as they pick through the fine print.
David Albright, the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, expressed concern that the U.S. had yielded too much ground on issues that were unrelated to Iran’s program, noting that the decision to lift the arms embargo in five years could “open the gates for arms sales.”
“It seems almost perverse to me,” he said.
Albright also expressed concerned that the mechanism for monitoring the import of nuclear related technology had been weakened. For instance, a U.N. panel of experts responsible for policing illicit transfers of sensitive nuclear related technology to Iran will be disbanded. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which will inherit some of the panel’s responsibilities, he said, has limited authority to recommend ways to strengthen the inspections.
“I think there are a lot of problems with this deal,” he said.
This article was written by Colum Lynch for Foreign Policy on July 19, 2015. Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.