Iran sanctions already crumbling

The 60-day deadline for Congress to vote its disapproval of the deal arrived at between Iran and the P5+1 nations is September 17, giving them roughly two weeks to do so after they return from their August recess. If a vote of disapproval does pass, president Obama has guaranteed a veto and so much attention is focused on whether the two chambers can muster the 2/3 majority to override the veto.

But the rest of the world is not waiting for the US Congress to act. Simon Tisdall writes that the sanctions regime imposed on Iran is already crumbling in anticipation and if Congress does scuttle the deal, that could leave the US as the outlier.

As debate rages among politicians and pundits in Washington over whether to endorse last month’s historic nuclear compromise with Iran, key European allies have already given their verdict: a resounding thumbs up.

Government ministers and business leaders in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere in the EU are racing to open up a new era of diplomatic, trade, investment and possible future military cooperation with Tehran, regardless of what American and Israeli sceptics say.

While Americans argue over timescales, technicalities and Iranian trustworthiness, behind their backs the scramble for Persia, recalling Europe’s 19th-century scramble for Africa, has already begun. The cohesion of the international sanctions regime isolating Iran is crumbling by the day.

While America wrangles, European countries, encouraged by a unanimous UN security council endorsement, are busily mending fences with Iran, keen not to miss out on potentially mouth-watering financial, trade and geopolitical dividends.

Although implementation of the deal is staggered, they are acting as though sanctions have already been lifted. They have not. But it seems increasingly plain that, even if Congress blocks Obama, it may be too late to rescue the international sanctions regime.

Harvard analyst Stephen Walt said: “In the end, we either implement this deal, or we will have: 1) a collapse of the sanctions regime and an Iran that is free to develop its nuclear capacity with few constraints, or 2) a preventive war that would give Iran a powerful incentive to acquire a bomb and only reduce its capacity to do so temporarily.’’

“We are recently witnessing the return of European investors to the country,” Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s UN ambassador, declared with evident pleasure. “Even in the past couple of weeks we have approved more than $2bn of projects in Iran by European companies.”

James Fallows reports on an informal but on-the-record meeting that president Obama had with nine journalists making his case for the deal. Fallows says that Obama’s strong words in support of the deal stems from the fact that “The real-world context for Obama’s certainty on these points is his knowledge that in the rest of the world, this agreement is not controversial at all.”

There is practically no other big strategic point on which the U.S., Russia, and China all agree—but they held together on this deal. (“I was surprised that Russia was able to compartmentalize the Iran issue, in light of the severe tensions that we have over Ukraine,” Obama said.) The French, Germans, and British stayed together too, even though they don’t always see eye-to-eye with America on nuclear issues. High-stakes measures don’t often get through the UN Security Council on a 15-0 vote; this deal did.

Some hardliners in Iran don’t like the agreement, as Obama frequently points out, and it has ramifications for many countries in the Middle East. But in Washington, only two blocs are actively urging the U.S. Congress to reject it. One is of course the U.S. Republican Party. The other is the Netanyahu administration in Israel plus a range of Israelis from many political parties—though some military and intelligence officials in Israel have dissented from Benjamin Netanyahu’s condemnation of the deal.

Obama has taken heat for pointing out in his speech that “every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support.” But that’s the plain truth.

Obama’s confidence is also seen in his willingness to openly defy Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel lobby on this issue, making the important point that the interests of the US and Israel are not the same and that his duty is to do what is best for the US.

“I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees—disagrees strongly. I do not doubt his sincerity. But I believe he is wrong. … And as president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.”

As Philip Weiss points out, Obama has done something very unusual for an American president in his recent speeches in support of the deal.

President Obama just gave his strongest speech yet in support of the Iran deal. At the end, he called on the public to call up your representatives and tell them what kind of America we want to be. And he both honored the role of the Israel lobby in our politics and then defied it.

Don’t succumb to “political concerns,” he told the Congress, in implicit reference to the power of the Israel lobby, the millions marshaled by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC. And he boldly defined an American national interest that is different from the Israeli one. Israel is the only country in the world that is against this deal, he said. Europe and the Security Council are behind it all the way. And while Benjamin Netanyahu is completely “sincere” in his opposition, Obama said, “As president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty” to defer to Israel’s wishes on this matter.

When has the president stated before that the Israel lobby wants him to abrogate his constitutional duties? He has done so now, and let that word go forth.

Chris Matthews said after the speech on MSNBC that Obama is trying to expand the electorate, to those who do not see Israel’s interest as ours. This is the heroic part of the speech: Obama is taking on the lobby directly. The Forward complained earlier this week that he was dog-whistling about Jews wanting wars. He’s not saying that. He’s saying that only Israel and the lobby and the Republicans support this warmongering mindset; and it is damaging our country.

Obama has issued a challenge to Congress to support him and the rest of the world on this deal. Let’s see what happens when Congress returns.


  1. Chiroptera says

    From the New York Times:

    Reporting From Iran, Jewish Paper Sees No Plot to Destroy Israel

    The paper mentioned is The Forward.

    Lead paragraph:

    The first journalist from an American Jewish pro-Israel publication to be given an Iranian visa since 1979 reported Wednesday that he had found little evidence to suggest that Iran wanted to destroy Israel, as widely asserted by critics of the Iranian nuclear agreement.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    The GOP and the Israel-is-our-only-friend-in-the-ME (yeah, some friend!) want to turn Iran into the Cuba of the 21st century. Because that worked so well for the last 50 years.

  3. Holms says

    The point being that the deal is proceeding regardless of the hoopla being thrown at it by Israel and their cronies in US politics. Also, replied to your post a few pages back.

  4. raven says

    This deal isn’t between the USA and Iran. It’s the rest of the world and Iran.

    If we don’t agree so what?

    The rest of the world trades with Iran and we are left out.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the rest of the world is not waiting for the US Congress to act.

    Well, then -- impeach the rest of the world!!!1!

  6. Chiroptera says

    raven, #6: If we don’t agree so what?

    I mostly agree with your point, but the “so what” is that the US then tries to get cute giving Iran the excuse to not implement the agreement. The rest of the world continues to trade with Iran anyway and continues to treat Iran as an equal member of the international community.

    Then we have the worst of both worlds. Iran acquires nuclear weapons capability as quickly as under the no-deal scenario but without sanctions.

    On the other hand, I would find a nuclear Iran less frightening than a I currently find a nuclear Pakistan, so, yeah, I don’t see it as the huge disaster that some try to make it out to be.

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