The P5+1 (China, France, Russia, U.S., U.K. plus Germany) reached a tentative nuclear deal with Iran on April 2, but it should not be considered an automatic victory for the United States and its allies. Even if a final agreement is reached by the June 30 deadline, there are no guarantees regarding the success and respect of the deal. While relieving sanctions might be worth preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in the next couple decades, it would not be worth doing so if the U.S. found a dishonest partner in Iran. The U.S. may very well find Iran to be dishonest, especially considering the recent non-proliferation deal pursued by the United States.
In Dan Henninger’s Wall Street Journal article from April 1, he discusses how although the United States and five other major world powers tried to reach a peaceful deal with North Korea in the 1990s and 2000s, the negotiations ultimately backfired when North Korea repeatedly violated deals.
The Arms Control Association outlined the steps that China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States took to halt North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program. Beginning in 1994 when North Korea withdrew itself from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), the United States worked with the Koreans by trying to make them comply with IAEA regulations and by taking additional steps to prevent them from building a nuclear weapon. In return for such an important potential safeguard to U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. agreed to give the North Koreans aid.
Even though the North Koreans violated deals that banned weapons-grade uranium enrichment and the testing of certain missiles and removed itself from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States returned to the negotiating table whenever the North Koreans pretended they were once again ready to talk. Many of these times, the United States gave them large sums of food and gasoline for the North Koreans’ efforts.
This aid is comparable to the sanctions relief the United States will give Iran if a deal is finalized; Americans often view Iranian policy in similar ways to that of North Korea. The regimes of both countries have histories of putting their own interests ahead of those of their people. If the Iranians are like the North Koreans and are willing to both violate deals for the sake of their nuclear program and make nuclear proliferation a higher priority than ensuring the wellbeing of its citizens, the Unites States could face another lose-lose situation. North Korea was able to acquire nuclear weapons while simultaneously receiving sanctions relief from the U.S., the U.S. could now be in the same position with Iran. In this case, the only thing worse than Iran developing a nuclear weapon would be for it to
develop the weapon while receiving temporary global sanctions
relief. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must look back at the North Korea negotiations and realize that it is quite possible for the Iran deal to go down the same path.
I do not believe that Iran is a trustworthy partner, and if Iran violates the deal (assuming it will be finalized), it could receive temporary free sanctions relief. Though this is possible, the deal will be effective at creating a complex network where Iran has little freedom and mobility if it wanted to deviate from the terms of the deal, meaning Iran could never be in a win-win situation for very long. If it violated the deal, the U.S., in theory, would hit Iran with sanctions again. If sanctions relief allows the Iranian economy to strengthen over a period of years, it will only be because Iran acts in accordance with the deal, and therefore will not have a nuclear bomb. In a calculated gamble, the U.S. has hedged its bets with Iran; the U.S. will not get what it wants in totality, nor will it allow Iran to gain a substantial amount of power.
This deal may be very effective at reducing the United States’ downside risk. This only holds true if the U.S. strictly follows the terms of the deal without making a mistake like it did with North Korea. If Iran violates a deal once, the U.S. must count on them to do so again. While abiding by the deal, the U.S. cannot give Iran any free passes.