If President Obama is right than all the time and energy that he and John Kerry and many others have invested in Iran diplomacy over the past few years has now finally produced results. If he is wrong, then the U.S. has been snookered by the finest pool/billiards players in the world.
From the news emanating from the White House it is all roses; or almost all. Iran sanctions are being lifted as Iran has been deemed to have complied with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) agreed to this summer in Vienna by Iran and the P5+ 1. Iran captured and then released within 18 hours the twelve U.S. Marines who were alleged to have entered Iranian territorial waters to spy. The U.S. and Iran then arranged a subsequent prisoner swap in a matter of hours after their release.
The Israelis remain skeptical about all the activities of the Iranians. The Saudis—now more than ever—as well as the Gulf States have been silent on the diplomatic events over the past few days; although they remain very concerned about the economic implications of Iran’s sudden dramatic increase in previously embargoed funds as well as forthcoming oil sale revenues. Clearly, the increased Iranian production and sales will affect the global market and oil prices.
Meanwhile, the Republican presidential candidates are having a field day. They are continuing largely to reject the JCPA; demand greater sanctions for Iran’s missile testing; criticizing Obama for being a patsy to Iranian manipulations; and continuing to appear weak before U.S. adversaries.
The unanswered question–beyond the obvious–is why did the Iranians chose to comply with the demands of the U.S. and its negotiating partners at this time?
- It seems clear they wanted to negotiate with Obama and not wait to start with an unknown in 2017. They also assume this deal was the best Obama would give them.
- They may well have a separate deal with the Russians that the low enriched uranium which was sent to Russia would be returned under certain circumstances. This has been made even plausible as Iran may be driving the Saudis to now quickly acquire nuclear weapons themselves.
- The Iranians wanted the release of its frozen assets of approximately $100 billion dollars so they could accelerate their financing of the Assad Government’s needs on its own as well as doing Russia’s bidding and compensating thereby the Russians.
- The Iranians view their opportunity to assert leadership in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen to optimal now and eliminating any further JCPA negotiations would have been a distraction at this time.
- The nature of both the West and IAEA challenges to Iranian compliance—should that develop—would undoubtedly drag out over an extended period if and when there would be such an occurrence. The Iranians know that no one—especially the Obama Administration–will be excited about re-starting a negotiating process.
- Removing the heavy water reactor from the Arak reactor site and pouring in cement does not preclude their saving it for another day in a site not operational.
Finally, there is no reason to assume that the Iranian leadership has given up its desire to lead the Muslim world. Consequently, this entire episode is a temporary sideshow which does postpone Iran becoming nuclear; for the moment. For Obama, the hope is that this effort will in way drive a movement for political change forward. It was probably illusory or fantasy but was worth trying; so here we go.