What’s Left, Being Right: Relations with Iran: For Balance, Peace & Democracy

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DIPLOMACY IN ACTION: Whether or not the agreement will fall through is still unclear.

Sid Wadhera, Maroon-News Staff & Orion Schelz

What’s Left

Striking A Balance

By Sid Wadhera

On April 2, in an event that was reminiscent of the 1980s, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany (or the P5+1) and Iran agreed to a preliminary deal involving Iran’s nuclear weapon program. This came after many months of tough negotiations between several parties, but most importantly between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Much like the nuclear arms reduction deals in the 1980s between the United States and the Soviet Union, this deal is not everything either party wanted, nor is it going to launch a massive détente between the two nations. What this preliminary deal does, however, is set up a framework for sustained dialogue and peace in the Middle East – something that hasn’t been seen in earnest since 2002. For that reason alone, this deal is a success for the Obama administration and the world. 

Before going on to explain why this preliminary deal is a success, it is important to understand the basic points. Essentially, the P5+1 agrees to end all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran putting serious limits on its nuclear program in the following ways: serious cutbacks on enrichment material and enrichment capacity along with enhanced monitoring of all nuclear reactors and enrichment facilities by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). With this understanding, there are two important reasons why this deal will promote peace in the Middle East: first, it will seriously reduce the threat of a nuclear arms race, and second, it is a small step on the path towards Iranian democracy. 

Now it’s easy to think that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a far-fetched idea. After all, nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia are not in the 1950s, where unrestricted access to nuclear weapons capabilities exists. However, it needs to be understood that Saudi Arabia sees Iran as a threat to its very existence (much like Israel, in fact). So Iran with a nuclear weapon is as much of an existential threat to Saudi Arabia as it is to Israel. The problem, however, is that Israel already has nuclear weapons; Saudi Arabia does not. It is logical, then, to assume that Saudi Arabia would follow in the next steps to obtain such a weapon; for a historical example, take a look at India and Pakistan in the 1970s. In any case, this would be very problematic for stability in the region. Thus, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is undoubtedly a sure step to prevent further deterioration of stability in the Middle East.

To the casual observer, Iranian democracy (by the Western definition) is about as far-fetched as the aforementioned nuclear arms race. In this case, it’s quite true. The Iranian regime is firmly entrenched, especially the more established powers like the Revolutionary Guard. Yet this nuclear deal is a step towards breaking down these rooted powers. First, the reduction in sanctions can return Iran to normal economic conditions, which decreases dependence on the black market and the Revolutionary Guard that controls it. It also shows that western powers – specifically the United States – can be negotiated with, that the rhetoric of them as “the Great Satan” is not entirely true.  All of this breaks down the mythos and power behind the Iranian regime, which is a step towards democracy in Iran. 

The Obama administration does not have the best track record when it comes to solving the myriad problems in the Middle East. Yet for all the failures or partial successes of the past seven years, the Iran issue has long been the greatest sticking point. This preliminary deal is just that – a preliminary step in the right direction for balance, peace and democracy in the Middle East. 

Being Right

No Deal Or Nuke Deal

By Orion Schelz

One of the most heated debates in current politics is President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which has gained recent attention due to its fervent opposition by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as by the GOP within the United States. This deal provides a framework that would theoretically prevent Iran from being able to develop nuclear weapons without international intervention. In exchange for downscaling refinery facilities and cooperation with international inspections, the U.S. and European Union would lift nuclear sanctions against Iran from previous decades. Iran would be allowed to produce uranium at an enrichment level strong enough to use for nuclear power, but not strong enough for use in nuclear weapons.  

The bill is a prime example of targeted diplomacy in Obama’s second term, which allows him to negotiate the terms of the deal with Iran despite the nation’s controversial and near universally condemned actions regarding nuclear weaponry. Critics believe that the President is going too far to please this dangerous and unstable state, with potentially catastrophic consequences. One of the primary concerns levied against the deal is that it allows Iran to maintain too much of its nuclear infrastructure. Under the deal, close to two thirds of Iran’s current nuclear centrifuges would be shut down, but roughly six thousand would be allowed to remain operational. These facilities would be subject to in depth international inspection to ensure Iranian cooperation with the terms of the agreement. However, many have called these inspection standards frighteningly weak, especially considering that there would be no random checks, a fact that would increase the possibility of Iran cheating on the deal. 

Also significant is the fact that should Iran decide to break the terms of the contract, it would already have a great deal of infrastructure with which to create nuclear weaponry. The presence of this could create suspicion in the already unstable Middle East, potentially escalating the arms race between Iran and Israel and creating an even more hostile geopolitical environment. Even with the deal, Iran refuses to disclose its past military actions regarding the development of nuclear weapons, a frightening fact that makes one wonder whether we are really in a position to be making these kinds of negotiations. Many politicians within the U.S. and abroad have rightful concerns that the deal is, in many aspects, too vague for a situation where the stakes are this high. The deal also disregards many of Iran’s other flagrant violations of international law and support of dangerous militants such as Hamas, operations that would likely even be supported with funds saved from the removal of sanctions. Iran is clearly a highly unstable and dangerous nation severely lacking regard for international law, so it is quite reasonable to question what the president truly hopes to accomplish out of these peaceful negotiations. 

This issue has also strained relations between the U.S. and Israel, as many leading Israeli politicians adamantly oppose this kind of negotiation with Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently called for Iran to officially recognize Israel’s existence as a state as part of the deal, a proposition that was denied by Obama because he saw it as too unreasonable of a request for the Iranian regime. This has the potential to cause a rift between the U.S. and Israel that could have serious implications for American interests in the Middle East. Israel is largely believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons itself, and tension with Iran is at an all time high. Given the already tense and unstable conditions of the region, especially regarding these two nations, this deal could potentially further escalate the already ominous situation.

The Iran controversy ultimately brings about an even larger question – should we be willing to negotiate with unstable states such as Iran in the hopes of future cooperation, or is this just an ill informed strategy that will lead to an even more dangerous situation? Through this deal Obama shows that he is willing to take these risks in order to try to facilitate diplomatic cooperation. However, when we are dealing with an unstable and threatening nation like Iran, this could set a dangerous precedent and enable future harmful activities. The probability that a nation such as Iran will break agreements such as this if given the chance is quite high. We need to ask ourselves if the substantial risk is truly worth the potential benefits of this level of cooperation.