June 28, 2015

Five Myths About the Iran Deal

As the final round of nuclear negotiations begins here in Vienna, opponents of a deal have become schizophrenic in their efforts to torpedo it. Unable to base their objections on science or the technical facts currently being drafted, they have instead resorted to a loose mélange of poorly constructed straw men. Here are five such myths about the Iran deal that are frequently mentioned and easily disproven:

1) Iran will receive an immediate economic windfall after a deal is signed.

Not quite. It will take time to see the benefits of sanctions relief that a nuclear deal will provide. President Hassan Rouhani has publicly acknowledged as much. When asked about the timing of sanctions relief, he conceded that weeks or even months will pass between signing and implementing the deal. He called a United Nations Security Council resolution to cancel previous resolutions on Iran’s nuclear program “the first major step and a guarantee.” After that, “it will take several months to implement all of the commitments,” he said, referring to unilateral American and European sanctions.

Even if all sanctions were terminated tomorrow, there is no shortage of indigenous impediments to Iran’s economic recovery. Corruption, bureaucratic red tape, inadequate legal protections, and unattractive contract terms for foreign investors are just a few of the many economic maladies that have plagued Iran for decades. Durable solutions will take time to produce results. Rouhani knows this will disgruntle many Iranians, but he also knows they do not have a viable alternative. His message is simple: “You don’t like me? Go vote for the other guys and take the country back to the situation it faced in 2012.” Rouhani is playing a dangerous game – but not one without logic.

2) Inspection and verification measures in the deal won’t stop Iran from cheating.

Think again. Iran already has the most heavily monitored nuclear program in the world save Japan. Global powers have already demonstrated their ability to acquire information about previously undisclosed nuclear activities in Iran. Still, the inspection and verification measures being discussed as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal will be unprecedented in nature and scope. The international community will acquire information and insight into Iran’s nuclear program at a level never previously achieved. From start to finish, there will be state-of-the-art science and technology monitoring every link in Iran’s nuclear supply and production chain.

Furthermore, if Iran sees timely and sustained benefits from a nuclear deal, it will maximize the incentives for following through on its commitments. Buy-in from Iranian decision-makers and the Iranian public is the only way to prevent a deal from collapsing in Tehran. Iran already has the technical capacity to build nuclear weapons, but it has not made the political decision to do so. The cost-benefit analysis in Tehran is clear: Sanctions and other forms of pressure produced 20,000 Iranian centrifuges. Diplomacy, respect, and the potential for political and economic reintegration were the incentives that produced previously unthinkable limitations to Iran’s nuclear program.

3) Iran will be even more emboldened in the region after a deal is signed.

On the contrary. Deal or no deal, Iran has always been a regional power, and it always will be. Instead, Washington should be asking itself whether Tehran’s power projection calculations can be affected in such a way that Iranian and American power peacefully co-exist. Recent history shows that it is possible – if political leaders are willing to take risks for peace. In 2001 and 2003, Iranian officials tried to realign relations with the U.S. after its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Geopolitical realities changed, and Iran sought to change with them. The Bush administration rebuffed Tehran’s overtures. The rest is history.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, geopolitical realities have once again changed, and Iranian strategy has changed accordingly. Ending the nuclear impasse is only the tip of the iceberg. Surrounded by a region ablaze, Iran has offered viable plans for Syria, Yemen, and the fight against violent extremism. It has repeatedly reached out to Western and regional actors seeking détente. Today, its foreign policy is premised on the reality that durable solutions require the buy-in of every actor with the capacity to wreck the solution. Iran will continue challenging foreign power when interests diverge, but it is more likely to do so with diplomats rather than bombs or bullets.

4) A nuclear deal will worsen human rights in Iran and sell out the Iranian people.

Nonsense. Iranian civil society remains unwavering in its support for a nuclear deal, believing it is the only way to achieve peace domestically and internationally. According to a recent study, respondents were unanimous in favor of a deal, and 61% of respondents believe it would enable political and cultural reforms in Iran – precisely because a nuclear deal will likely strengthen Rouhani’s political ability to address such issues. Conversely, respondents were unanimous in their belief that failure to secure a deal will result in increased repression, further loss of political and cultural freedoms, and possibly war.

It is important to note that a short-term increase in human rights abuses may occur in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear deal. Some hardline Iranian officials will likely want to send a message: Do not mistake our opening to the world for “weakness” at home. However, a Rouhani administration empowered by a nuclear deal and improved relations with the world will likely have the ability to improve Iran’s human rights situation over the medium to long term. This is change that Iranian society can tolerate: They know better than any population in the region that violent change rarely improves human rights, while gradual (and at times, painful) reform has a far grater chance of success.

5) More pressure will secure a better deal.

Patently false. Sanctions, other forms of coercive measures, and threats of military force were the default means of trying to influence Iran’s perceptions and self-interest for 35 years. They produced less in three decades than real diplomacy produced in two years. Since August 2013, negotiations without preconditions have shown Iranian decision-makers that it is in their interest to work with the U.S. in some areas, and it is possible for them to do so without capitulating. America’s military and economic superiority too often serves as the backbone of arguments in favor of muscling Iran into line rather than using diplomacy to persuade Iranian decision-makers to solve the problems that generate their challenges to American power.

Threatening escalation does not deter conflict. Efforts to contain Tehran’s nuclear and regional ambitions did not freeze the various aspects of Iranian policy that Washington deemed objectionable. Until recently, there was not an equal effort to explore ways of mitigating or eliminating the sources of conflict. America can re-learn a valuable lesson from its recent dealings with Iran: Today’s international security challenges require less threats of escalating pressure and more diplomatic efforts to resolve the issues that motivate foreign nations. More pressure will not facilitate more Iranian concessions – it will harden and entrench differences at the negotiating table.

From start to finish, what matters most is what happens inside the negotiating room. Behind closed doors, a process is mapped out that allows both sides to uphold their respective commitments. That has been the track record to date, and it will be integral to continued success. As the two sides work to complete a comprehensive nuclear deal, their opponents will ramp up efforts to kill it. Separating their myths from the negotiators facts will go a long way towards insulating the diplomatic process in the eleventh hour, and allowing any deal to be judged on its actual details rather than dishonest spin

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Back to top