Is the Iran nuclear deal in trouble?

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Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, chief negotiator for the US on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, will leave her post after the June 30 deadline. France says it will oppose any deal that does not incude on-site inspections of Iran’s military bases, which Iran’s Supreme Leader denounces as a dealbreaker. Asia Times contributor M.K. Bhadrakhumar wonders whether the US has had a change of heart:

The meeting on Saturday in Switzerland between the US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will be taking place under the shadow of new uncertainties that crept into the “nuclear talks”. There is growing skepticism whether a deal could be closed by end-June.

The U.S. has shifted the goal post and now insists that the Additional Protocol providing for inspection of Iranian nuclear sites should also cover all (non-nuclear) military sites. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has refused to give in.

Why did the US introduce this potential “deal breaker”? France’s robust interjection suggests a Saudi hand in it. Could it be that Obama is simply negotiating harder and hopes to browbeat Iran to make more concessions, or, is it that he finds it expedient that negotiations continue into July and beyond so that the sanctions remain in place?

If the latter is the case, factors extraneous to the nuclear issue, relating to the regional situation, would account for it. A resurgent Iran poses serious challenges to the U.S. strategies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The U.S’ regional allies – Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, in particular – are apprehensive that the lifting of sanctions will augment Iran’s resources and enable it to play a forceful role in regional politics.

Conceivably, the U.S. will want to shift the regional balance of power in Syria and Iraq in its (and its allies’) favor before lifting the sanctions against Iran. Washington would know that Iran’s robustly independent foreign policies will not change even if a nuclear deal is reached with the U.S.

Meanwhile, the recent “thaw” with Russia strengthens Obama’s hand insofar as he feels reassured that Moscow will not complicate matters at this critical juncture in the negotiations while the U.S. tightens the screws on Iran.

The fundamental problem here is of mindset. The U.S. opinion still largely views Iran in hostile terms. As recently as last week, Obama sequestered 20 airplanes sold to Iran and sanctioned the companies that sold them; he also renewed oil and banking sanctions.

The “known unknown” is how far the U.S. is covertly manipulating the Islamic State [IS] as an instrument of regional policies against Iran. The U.S. plunged into a blame game with Baghdad and tried to distract attention from the real question as to why it did nothing to stop the IS capturing Ramadi last week when it had a base located hardly 100 kilometers away.

Not even the US aircraft intervened in Ramadi. Again, the U.S. keeps an ambivalent stance on Syria. Doesn’t all this suggest a concerted strategy to get Iran bogged down in a war of attrition with the IS?

 

Here Ambassador Bhadrakumar, I think, reads too much into the faillure of America’s efforts against ISIS: promoting ISIS as a counterweight to Assad (or even Iran) is the sort of thing the British would have done in their heyday, but not the Americans. The overt explanation for the paucity of US airstrikes, namely US fear of killing civilians, is probably a full-credit answer. ISIS embeds itself behind civilian screens, and many civilians would die if the US tried to kill large numbers of ISIS gunmen from the air. Obama’s camarilla is heavily weighted towards human-rights activists (Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, Samantha Powers). That does not preclude the possibilty that other regional powers (e.g. Turkey) might be helping ISIS for their own reasons.

American electoral politics is another important factor. Obama may be a lame duck concerned about his legagy rather than about the fortunes of the Democratic Party in next year’s presidential election, but he has post-presidential ambitions for which he will need friends, and if his stubbornness helps elect Republicans, he will have few friends. A huge majority of Americans according to the Gallup Poll see Iran as a “critical threat” to the United States, and that gives the Republicans a big stick with which to beat the administration.

Gallup Poll, February 2015
Gallup Poll, February 2015

David P. Goldman
David Paul Goldman (born September 27, 1951) is an American economist, music critic, and author, best known for his series of online essays in the Asia Times under the pseudonym Spengler. Goldman sits on the board of Asia Times Holdings.
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