MESOP COMMENTARY MAGAZINE : IRAN ! – If Sanctions Have Already Collapsed, We Know the Outcome of the Iran Talks


Jonathan S. Tobin – 05.12.2015 – COMMENTARY – The deadline is fast approaching for the completion of the draft of the Iran nuclear agreement. When the framework was announced last month, the assumption was that the deal would soon be put on paper. But it soon became clear that there were serious differences on key issues between Iran and the West about the final terms of the pact that had to be hammered out in negotiations. President Obama has insisted that he will not budge on his insistence that Iran agree to sanctions being lifted on a delayed basis and be able to be “snapped back” in the event of Tehran violating the deal, the imposition of intrusive nuclear inspections and that it will be forced to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium. But confidence that he will stand his ground in the talks is being undermined daily by evidence that the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the table are already breaking down. As Eli Lake reports at BloombergView, the delivery of nine used commercial airliners in Iran for use by Mahan Air illustrates that the ground on which Obama is standing is falling apart. If sanctions can’t be kept now, why would Iran give in on any of these issues, let alone fear they would be re-imposed later?

The airliner deal that Lake discusses is important because, as he notes, the U.S. Treasury Department has targeted Mahan Air in the past because of its ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. But now apparently, all is forgiven and the company’s efforts to bolster its fleet are not being interfered with by the U.S. or its allies.

The efforts of Russia, which has already announced the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and China to undermine the sanctions to which they have only reluctantly endorsed, are well known. So, too, if the fact that Western Europe has been chomping at the bit to buy Iranian oil as well as do business in the country. As I wrote last month, even American companies are now eagerly preparing to dive back into the Iranian market.

The impact of these efforts will be felt once a deal is signed and create a huge and powerful constituency against any effort to hold Iran accountable for its compliance with the weak nuclear deal or to re-impose sanctions should Tehran chose to cheat on the easily evaded restrictions in the pact. But even if we forget for a moment how the rush to conduct business with Iran after the deal is finally concluded, the key question now is how the efforts of some to jump the gun on Iran trade will impact the last stage of the talks.The president has insisted he won’t give in to Iran’s demands that the sanctions be lifted permanently on the day the deal is signed. We are also told he won’t give up on inspections or the transfer of the nuclear stockpile of Iran. What’s more Iran has been told that it must allow United Nations inspectors to discover the extent of its progress in military research that it has heretofore kept secret. But, as Lake’s report illustrates, what little is left of America’s economic leverage over the Islamist regime is evaporating with each passing day.

Unfortunately, the president has a poor track record with regards to being tough with Iran. He threw away the enormous advantages that the international economic restrictions has given the West over Iran in 2013 when he agreed to an interim nuclear deal that began the process of dismantling sanctions. The same pattern reappeared in the 16 months of negotiations that led to the framework. At every point America abandoned its previous positions that had called for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Obama eventually presented the country with a deal that let the Iranians keep most of the nuclear infrastructure and which will eventually expire. That already gives Iran two paths to a bomb. One is by violating the easily evaded restrictions on their nuclear activity. The other is by patiently waiting for the deal to expire while legally continuing their research.

All of which leads observers to the inevitable conclusion that unless President Obama has a radical change of heart, he will again bend to Iran’s demands on even these final crucial sticking points. But even if he wanted, for the first time, to insist on getting his way, it’s hard to see how that will happen with the sanctions already disappearing. It’s equally difficult to imagine him walking away from his signature foreign policy “achievement” on which an entire new Iran-centric policy is based. The airliner delivery may turn out to be just one more indication that Iran is right to think that it can keep saying “no” to Obama and get away with it.