In Embassy Row in Washington, DC, one ornate building lays dormant. Located at 3005 Massachusetts Ave. NW, stands a deteriorating building that was once the Iranian embassy. It has been empty since 1980, when the Ayatollah took over and diplomatic relations with the United States ceased to exist.
But, have relations thawed just a little? GV Wire went to Washington to ask some experts about their thoughts on the Iran nuclear deal.
Agreed to in 2015 between the United States with five other world powers and Iran, the deal lifted economic sanctions in return for Iran curbing any nuclear weapons ambition. It went into effect January 2016 and lasts for ten years.
The incoming presidential administration felt it was a bad deal.
“Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran,” Donald Trump said at a campaign rally on Sep. 9, 2016. “And I mean, never!”
The outgoing administration urged the deal to be kept.
“So, it becomes more difficult I think to undo something that’s working than undo something that isn’t working. And when you’re not responsible for it, I think you can call it a terrible deal. When you are responsible for the deal and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, you’re more likely to look at the facts,” President Barack Obama said at a Nov. 14, 2016 news conference.
Will those pleas fall on deaf ears?
GV Wire sought out to get some answers from some experts. Professor Raymond Tanter served the Reagan Administration as a National Security Council advisor. He has authored books on Iran and is critical of the way Obama structured the deal.
[Tanter Sanctions] “The deal has positive and negative aspects. The big problem for the United States is that President Obama put sanctions relief up front, so Iran got the money back and is pledged to adhere to the terms of the deal. And that puts the successor, President Trump, in a bind. And President Trump doesn’t want to be there. Many people don’t think President Trump really understands these issues. But, on the issue of certification and compliance, he’s spot on. He knows what he’s talking about,” Tanter says.
Since the lifting of sanctions 19 months ago, there have been signs of Iran’s economic prosperity.
Iran has signed an $18 billion deal with Europe’s Airbus; French energy company Total signed a $1 billion dollar deal; French auto maker Reanult singed a $777 million dollar deal; and Chicago-based Boeing signed a $20 billion deal with Iran. But, will other American companies also be able to benefit? Could pushing for more sanctions take away opportunities from other U.S. manufacturers? Could this hurt American jobs?
The White House must re-certify the deal every 90 days. The most recent recertification happened last month, despite President Trump’s hesitance.
From all accounts, Iran is holding its end of the bargain.
Congressman Adam Schiff from California serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“Iran has largely complied. There has been time where they’ve had excess of heavy water. But, apart from that, they’ve complied with the agreement,” Schiff told GV Wire in the Halls of the U.S. Capitol.
Tanter says most of Trump’s top military advisors, such as Sec. of Defense Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Sec. of Defense James Mattis and Federica Mogherini of the European Union, say Iran is in compliance.
GV Wire also spoke with Reza Marashi, the Research Director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) based in Washington. They claim to be the largest grass-roots Iranian-American organization.
He agrees that Iran is complying with the deal, but criticizes President Trump for not upholding his end.
“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration recently has not been fulfilling America’s end of the bargain, both the spirit and the letter of the deal. It is not too late for the Trump Administration to start to live up to its end of the bargain to fulfill America’s obligations under the deal. Given recent remarks we’ve heard from President Trump, it’s not looking good from that regard,” Marashi said at his office on K Street.
Despite consensus that Iran is complying, Trump has continued to show skepticism since taking over the White House.
“My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever — a nuclear weapon,” he said during a Feb. 15 news conference in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Marashi still has hope the deal will be honored. “The beauty of the way this agreement was negotiated is that none of it is predicated on trust. All of it is predicated on 24/7/365 verification. The science and technology of which that is part of this deal has never been applied to any other nuclear program in the history of the world. This has become the gold standard of all non-proliferation agreements. If you don’t like the Iran deal, you don’t like any deal,” Marashi says.
“One man, President Donald Trump, stands alone against the senior members of his national security council, against the world. But I don’t think that President Trump minds standing alone because he wants to make America great. And making America great means standing alone,” Tanter analyzes.
Why would Trump stand alone? Marashi has some theories.
“President Trump thinks he can strong-arm Iranians and all other countries that are parties to this agreement into a better deal. But that kind of runs contrary to not only what the Obama Administration but everybody else in the world that’s a party to this deal has said, which is A) it cannot be renegotiated and B) there’s no better deal to be had. It really insults the intelligence of career government officials in the United States and six other countries to say a better deal could be negotiated whether it be by Donald Trump or his closest advisors.
“That’s one potential scenario. The other potential scenario is that they don’t like any multi-lateral deal that has been negotiated: whether it be the Paris Treaty on climate change or America’s obligations to the NATO treaty on collective defense and security,” Marashi says.
Tanter is skeptical a long-term deal will lead Iran to the light.
“Iran then has a right in the deal, already, to enrich on its own soil. Iran plays something called the long game. We play the short game. Our elections make a difference, so people make decisions based upon who’s in charge,” Tanter says. “Elections have consequences in the United States. Elections really don’t have consequences in Iran.”
Schiff says he is cautious about Iran’s long term goals. “Yes, it is very much a concern that after ten years, if Iran hasn’t changed, if they’re still the same malignant country –at least its leadership- then yes, they will be able to expand their enrichment process,” he says.
In a speech last spring, Trump rallied the Arab community against Iran. The Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror,” Trump said at the Arab Islamic American Summit on May 21.
“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve. The decisions we make will affect countless lives.”
Another sign of Iran rejoining the world economy? Oil.
Exports have nearly doubled from a sanction-era 2013 low of 1.1 million barrels a day to 2.2 million today. Some analysts feel that expanding economic opportunity helps the Iranian middle class. And a more powerful middle class could lead to a peaceful change of power.
I asked Marashi about the possibility of regime change in Iran
“The political, economic and social aspirations of Iranian people have gone long unmet by their government. But, what I’ve also found to be quite striking, and it’s clear to anybody that has any level of intellectual honesty, that they turn out at 70% or higher to vote in elections that are neither free nor fair by international best practices and standards. I think the message that it sends to the international community is that Iranians prefer peaceful, indigenous change. Because, they look around at all the countries surrounding them and they don’t want the kind of smash and grab that took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. They want change to happen in their country without bloodshed,” Marashi says.
He also says the wants of the Iranian people are similar to its neighbors, yet it’s treated differently by America.
“I think that the kind of change that Iranians want to see in their country is the kind of changes that Saudi Arabians want to see in their country; that Emiratis would like to see in their country. Iran is not a democracy, but neither is any other country in this part of the world. And yet, the Iranian government and people are treated differently. Iran’s human rights abuses, while egregious, are criticized at a level that Saudi Arabia’s —which are equally if not more egregious— are never criticized. We have to ask ourselves, why is that the case? So, I think that the two things that should be done are the United States should do no harm. If people inside of Iran want peaceful, indigenous change, then that’s what the United States government should support,” Marashi says.
What does Schiff think the end game will look like? “The nuclear deal basically bought us time to see whether Iran could change its behavior. But that will be up to the Iranians and whether that new generation successfully wrests control away from these hardliners,” Schiff says.
And Tanter’s outlook? “Ten years from now, Iran will have the bomb. It’s involved with ballistic missile testing. The only purpose of ballistic missile testing is the use in a nuclear weapon.
“Fresno, California is in the target range,” Tanter says facetiously we hope.