Iran Deal Still Possible Despite Passing of Deadline (1/2)

Technicalities are slowing it down but the bulk of the deal is most likely already complete, say National Iranian American Council’s Jamal Abdi and University of Minnesota economics professor Cyrus Bina

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Story Transcript

Part 1

JESSICA DESVARIEUX PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

June 30 was supposed to the deadline for Iran and P5+1 countries to settle on a framework for Iran’s nuclear plans. But we now know that talks will continue past Tuesday’s deadline for a comprehensive agreement intended to open the door to ending sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy in exchange for limits on its most sensitive nuclear activities for at least a decade.

Here to discuss all these developments are our two guests. Joining us from Washington DC is Jamal Abdi. Jamal is the policy director at the National Iranian American Council. And also joining us via phone is Cyrus Bina. Cyrus is a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota, and a fellow with Economists for Peace and Security. Thank you both for joining us.

So Jamal, I’m going to start off with you. What do we know about the framework of the potential deal, and what is slowing down the framework being settled on?

JAMAL ABDI, POLICY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: So I’m actually very confident that they’re going to come to a final deal very soon. The framework deal that was established in April was–it was a good outline for all of the issues that needed to be resolved in the final deal. Mostly what they’re doing now is filling in those technical details about how to actually implement this very technical agreement that involves both nuclear physics and international sanctions, which are two very dense areas of expertise.

So I’m not surprised that negotiations have gone beyond the June 30 deadline. I don’t expect them to go much further beyond that deadline.

DESVARIEUX: What are those technical details that you mentioned that they’re disputing?

ABDI: There are details involving the timing of the sanctions relief. It was agreed that all nuclear-related sanctions would be lifted. It was agreed that this would be done through a U.N. Security Council resolution, and now it’s a matter of how do they square the circle of implementing the sanctions relief such that it is parallel with Iran’s implementation of its own nuclear compromises.

There are other sticky areas, such as how does Iran work with the IEA to resolve the separate but parallel investigation into possible past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. This is an issue that has cropped up a lot in the U.S. media coverage, and among skeptics of the deal. How do the parties resolve its issue and enable the IEA to close the file on these potential past military dimensions of the program.

All of this being said, I think that they are actually very close on all these issues. And the fact that Javad Zarif went back to Iran for consultations to me demonstrates that they’ve got some type of final deal in hand, and now they just need to cross the Ts and dot the Is.

The fact that it’s going to go beyond June 30th is of no surprise. Weeks ago we were hearing this from administration officials. The real deadline is to get the deal finalized and sent to Congress, hopefully before July 9, because if they don’t it triggers a additional Congressional review period. And so that’s what they were really aiming for. Not surprised that they’re going a little bit over the June 30 deadline.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Cyrus, what is being reported in the Iranian press? How is that narrative being shaped as to why there’s a delay?

CYRUS BINA, PROF. OF ECONOMICS, UNIV. OF MINNESOTA: I think they’re not concretely leading to any particular situation. But based on the interviews and talks that Khamenei, the leader of Iran, has done previously it is, it boils down to how sanctions are going to be dealt with. They want to really eliminate the sanctions from the very beginning. But the caution is that how and what, and of course the U.S. counterpart wants to do it under phases.

So that it seems to me would be sort of the element of delay on this. But on the whole I think–this is nearly two years of negotiation between Iran and the United States. And this is also leading to, if this is completed, is one of the important achievements of the Obama administration after so many setbacks since 9/11 in terms of foreign policy.

So I don’t think that this is going to be difficult in a sense that it’s going to be, the deal is not going to be done. Deal is done, in my judgment. But the question is not technical difficulties, in terms of nuclear and everything else. And you know, nuclear physics and so on. But sanctions. I think sanctions would be very important to be dealt with, and of course they have a difference of opinion in terms of timing of it. Not that it would be remote, but the timing of [inaud.] the sequence of the process will start to get rid of the sanctions.

DESVARIEUX: The deal does seem to be done if you look at the press. Reuters is reporting that France has asked its firms to prepare for a return to Iran, as well as its banks to prepare to lift sanctions since Iran has more than $150 billion frozen in overseas banks.

So you guys both stated that you believe that the deal is still possible. But if the deal doesn’t get done, what would–as you mentioned, Jamal, that July 9 deadline is reached there. If that deal doesn’t get done by that July 9 deadline, what would be some real consequences for the Iranian people and American people?

ABDI: If the deal doesn’t get done there’s no plan B here. Both sides have very few options that don’t lead to disaster. One of the reasons that we are in this process, this negotiating process, is the fact that the escalation on the U.S. side in terms of sanctions, and the escalation of Iran’s nuclear program towards having a capacity to break out in a very short amount of time, these two sort of escalatory paths were reaching a dead end, or a crisis.

So if the deal does not get done, I see–I see no good options. There is potentially, in the immediate falling apart of a deal, there will be an attempt to play the blame game. And whichever party can come out of that with a perception that the other party was to blame.

So for Iran, they want to make sure that if the deal falls apart it’s because the United States said no to a good deal, and vice versa. The United States does not want to be blamed if the talks fall apart, because that gives Iran the upper hand. That gives Iran the upper hand to start unraveling the sanctions, and to say that it was the United States, not Iran, who is the intransigent actor.

Regardless of which party is viewed as the spoiler, I think that it sets off an escalatory chain in which military action becomes very likely once again, because both sides will be back towards those escalatory measures, and there are no short circuits to that process. There is no way to get off of this path. Diplomacy will be off the table, and that leaves very few other options.

DESVARIEUX: Cyrus, I want to get your take on this. Do you have the same reservations that this could potentially lead to war?

BINA: I think it’s likely a different opinion about this. Yes, that’s true that July 9 would be an important deadline, in that fundamental sense. But I think I could not imagine that more than, less than let’s say, about–more than 18, 19 months of negotiation. And getting rid of all the technical difficulties. Remember, all the physicists and from the technical standpoint, they don’t have any problem on that.

The secretary of energy, who is a physicist, assures us that this is no problem. The question is political. And this political situation boils down to the question of the conflict of the past, and of course the question of sanctions.

In this particular sense I think it would–my judgment is that it would not go beyond July 9. But if it does, even, I don’t see that–the water is already under the bridge. I think the negotiations will be continuing, and I think the question is that this deal will be a deal which will be an important deal and the starting of the relationship between the United States and Iran after 30-some years or so.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Cyrus, thank you so very much. Jamal, thank you so much for being with us. We’re just going to pause the conversation here. In part two we’ll talk more about geopolitics, better understanding of how countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, what they’re doing behind the scenes, and how the West is really imagining its role in the region if relations are thawed between the West and Iran. Please stay with us.

Jamal and Cyrus, thank you both for joining us.

BINA: You’re welcome.

ABDI: My pleasure.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Part 2

JESSICA DESVARIEUX PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our conversation with Jamal Abdi as well as Cyrus Bina. We are talking about the Iran nuclear deal. The deadline was June 30 for a framework to come about, but now we have word that it’s going to be taking a little bit longer.

So I’m going to start off with you, Jamal, and I want to talk about the real winners and losers of a delay and a potential breakdown of a deal. Would it seem from a geopolitical standpoint that Israel would be happy about this delay since we know Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he addressed Congress where he was vehemently opposed to a deal with Iran. He called it a bad deal for democracy. What’s the Israeli strategy now that there’s a delay?

JAMAL ABDI, POLICY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: I think this delay is going to be a short phenomenon, so I think there may be an effort to say this is stonewalling, and this or that. But at the end of the day there’s, I’m pretty confident there’s going to be a deal.

As for Israel, the political establishment in Israel has made the political decision to oppose this deal. To oppose any deal. And to offer no alternatives. Which is in contrast to what the security and military establishment is saying. The Israeli army intelligence issued a report that said a nuclear deal would actually have a net security benefit for Israel’s security, which is very far out of line with what Netanyahu and other political figures are saying inside of Israel.

I think that the Israeli strategy is one in which they’ve been boxed in because of their political leadership into opposing this deal. And I think that most of Israel’s efforts are going to be focused on really trying to contain this deal, and limit what they perceive is the fallout of this deal. The political opposition to an agreement by Netanyahu is less about a desire to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Because I think Netanyahu understands that this deal is actually probably the best way to do that. Netanyahu is somebody who initially opposed the interim deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program and now is saying, you know what, instead of getting a final deal you should just extend the interim deal indefinitely.

But that notwithstanding, I think that the effort is going to be one in which Netanyahu, political figures in Israel seek to make sure that the real consequence that they view of this deal, which is that Iran starts to have a relationship, potentially, in which there is dialog with the United States in which Iran is no longer this contained sort of neutered actor in the region, and begins to assume a bit of a greater role in the region, and Israel wants to make sure that that does not happen.

Now, I think this is the wrong approach because the promise of this deal is to actually bring Iran into the fold, and begin having diplomacy on all of these problems in the region that can only be resolved if all of the powers in the region are seeking political solutions instead of military solutions. Hopefully that will happen, but I think that Israel is working to prevent Iran from being a part of those processes.

DESVARIEUX: Another power in the region, of course, is Saudi Arabia. They, too, have been opposed to a deal. Cyrus, I want to get your take. How are they trying to thwart negotiations, and why are they so opposed to Iran no longer being isolated from the West?

CYRUS BINA, PROF. OF ECONOMICS, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Yes, thank you very much. My take on this is based on almost 40 years of research and writings about the transformation of the globe, as well as transformation of the Middle East.

The question of Iran nuclear negotiation or attempt to make a bomb, or whatever they, each parties may accuse each other, is the tip of the iceberg. The question is that, the main issue if you want to really fundamentally deal with it, is that the balance of power had already changed in the Middle East and in the world altogether after the 1970s. And then the implosion or collapse of the pax Americana, the system of the, post-World War II, that the United States was the hegemon. And of course the implosion of the Soviet Union of course was another cause of that same process, which led to the globalization process. Which now that the power has changed in every region of the world, including the Middle East.

So if you really take that, the issue of nuclear Iran, or rather quote-unquote, I put it in that sense, it would be a tip of the iceberg. Change of the balance of power means that the old world, which was under the auspices of the United States already, is gone. Is already done. And in that sense Saudi Arabia, which is connected very much with the old world, pax Americana, is already powerless in that fundamental sense.

Nevertheless, I think [sending arms] and supporting directly and indirectly by the United States of Saudi Arabia is just sort of a band-aid, if you will, on this process. So in this sense I [would not] surprised that Saudi Arabia is against this deal, and any other deal which would change the equation in a formal sense, or accepting the change in the balance of power [inaud.]. You have to realize also that after the Arab Springs, what happened to Saudi Arabia, and then what Saudi Arabia has done. I think Saudi Arabia is very important to be watched, because the contradictory processes, and then the regime itself, which it seems to me would be very contradictory with–the 21st century establishment would be very important.

So if you really look at the fundamental sense of what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, why Saudi Arabia does not fit the region, in the fundamental sense, then you know why the tip of the iceberg is also being countered by Saudi Arabia, and Gulf, and so on and so forth.

Now, going back to the reflections in the press, and then the habitual arguments that we have to arm Saudi Arabia against Iran, and then creating rivals and so forth even though the rivalry is there already. Excluding this rivalry, it would be also adding to this, and then creating more [events] around this issue of nuclear deal.

DESVARIEUX: I’m so happy you’ve mentioned that rivalry, because we actually have a report that, Reuters is reporting that a senior official in France came out essentially saying that, quote, everyone is looking at Iran with greed. It’s an open, it’s an important market, but it’s not the only one. There was a strategic decision to be made on who could face Iran as it pushes its pawns in the region. That’s Saudi Arabia and Egypt. That’s the choice we’ve made.

So that was a senior French official basically coming out saying that they are going to be supporting Egypt and Saudi Arabia to be the main rivals against Iran. What do you make of that, Jamal? Who has to really benefit from creating this rivalry between these different countries?

ABDI: Yeah. Well, what a novel approach to back Egypt and Saudi Arabia against Iran, as if this hasn’t been happening for the past three decades. This is just a doubling down of the, sort of the strategic infrastructure of the region in which there is an attempt to balance the sort of, certain forces on one side and certain forces on the other side. Balancing the Gulf states as well as Egypt against Iran is nothing new. This reads to me as a signal to France’s friends in the region, friends with whom they have commercial and military ties, that the status quo will not be shaken by this Iran nuclear agreement.

I think that it is shortsighted. I think that this deal is an opportunity to break the status quo that has led to so much of the problems in the region. And I really, given the true problems that are plaguing the Middle East right now, stateless fundamentalist groups, I think that this represents the type of backwards thinking that will only perpetuate this problem and lead to further insecurity inside of the region.

So hopefully this is just one official and not a strategy that is going to be too heavily invested in, and hopefully there will be opportunities for any status quo, and having the countries actually, instead of participating in this zero-sum game, actually beginning to find ways to work together, but we’ll see.

DESVARIEUX: Yes. Cyrus, you heard Jamal talk about the status quo and commercial interests sort of being reassured by that statement. What specific commercial interests are we talking about when we mention that it’s in their interest to promote this rivalry?

BINA: I think this is–I agree with Jamal on this point, that we have seen this movie before, as they say. And this is not, it’s just grasping at straws by certain individuals in France. And I don’t think that it’s a good policy for the [French] government to really tread on this particular [pasture].

Going back to my thesis, the fundamental thesis of change in the balance of power, Iran is not only the commercial, connected to the commercial activities. But the question is that in an organic sense, Iran is a part and parcel of the polity of the Middle East, and polity of the world by implication. And in that sense Iran cannot be ignored. Iran is the most important and powerful country in the region. Why powerful? Not because the Islamic Republic has been managing it nice and neat and so forth. Far from it. But because of the objective conditions and the transformation of the world, and change in the balance of power.

So in this sense, the question of objectivity should be dealt with. In this fundamental sense then the question is not commercial activities, of selling arms to Egypt for instance. Selling arms, a pile of it to Saudi Arabia. These are the interests of a particular group of industries which are not really congruent with the interest of the foreign policy of the United States, or foreign policy of France, or foreign policy of Great Britain, and so on and so forth.

So in that sense I think these are the last gasps, an argument which would not go anywhere against the nuclear deal in Iran.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Cyrus Bina as well as Jamal Abdi, thank you both for joining us.

BINA: Thank you very much.

ABDI: [Inaud.]

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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