Iran-US Nuclear Deal – Needs in Depth Examination

Yesterday I distributed a Commentary entitled “Some Alarming Assessments of Obama” (see my web site at www.ipe.net.au). Today the AFR has published my letter entitled “US-Iran deal demands scrutiny” (see below). This suggests that, in assessing the framework nuclear deal between Iran and the US (and others), Australian ministers need to pay careful regard to the underlying motives of the two countries. Also published today is an article by Defence Editor Nicholson in The Australian on Minister Bishop’s visit to Iran entitled Australia warming up to Tehran.

My reaction to Nicholson’s article is that it suggests a worryingly naive assessment of Iran by Bishop. Of course, she is speaking publicly and as such cannot express views or reservations too openly. Even so, her comments and the reports of her assessment of Iranian attitudes fall well short of reality and she seems to have no reservations about developments in the framework nuclear deal to date.

Nicholson says, in fact, she appears more cautiously optimistic that the current nuclear negotiations with Iran can produce results than before she went to Iran. Bishop herself says the Iranian leaders insist their nuclear ambitions are peaceful and “They say they are prepared to be very open with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors and that the offer they have put as part of the framework agreement should satisfy all nations who have concern about Iran’s nuclear program”.

Yet Iran has a long record of not observing agency requirements and it has already stated that inspectors will not be admitted to “military sites”.

Nor does Bishop refer to a report that there is  no agreement on the terms even of the framework deal (see further below) or express any reservations about the “concessions”  made by Obama for no apparent strategic benefit. Bishop also implies that the attitudes and policies of Iran are vastly different to those of the Islamic State and that Australia and Iran have  “have a common interest in defeating this ideology with a counter-narrative”. But the ideology of Iran is not in fact substantially different to that of IS. Account also needs to be taken of the fact that Shia Iran is competing with Sunni IS in Iraq.

My concern about Bishop’s interpretations of Iran and the nuclear deal are reinforced by three further developments.

First, AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein has issued a statement on Bishop’s visit which inter alia says “there was a clear risk Iran had received all the benefits of the changed relationship with no apparent change in its aggressive stance towards its neighbours. “From where we sit, there are lots of loose threads here,” he said. “If this proves to be a step in genuine moderation of Iran this will be seen in hindsight as a constructive visit, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that that’s the case.”

Dr Rubenstein said Australia’s allies may also hold concerns about the new intelligence-sharing arrangement and that the issue of returning Iranian asylum-seekers – a primary goal of the trip – had seemingly been rebuffed.

“It’s not a revelation to say the Iranians know a lot about what’s happening in Iraq, obviously they do, but my point would be that ??defeating a barbaric form of Sunni Islamic extremism in the form of Da’ish or Islamic State is not likely to be all that effective in terms of ultimate outcomes if you’re relying on the foremost sponsor of Shi’ite radicalism and terrorism in the region,” he said. “If that’s who you’re depending on and collaborating with, I’d say we’re in a dangerous zone.”

Second, Mahmoud Moradkhani, who is the nephew of Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has posted an open letter on an Iranian website which tells President Obama that Khamenei has been lying and that the nuclear deal should not be pursued. Moradkhani spells out what he sees as a dreadful domestic situation in Iran – “countless breaches of human rights violations, spreading of Islamic fundamentalism, intervention and creating crisis in the Middle East are all unacceptable and contrary to democratic and humane beliefs” – and argues that what needs to be done is to “uproot the wicked tree of the Islamic regime of Iran”. Of particular interest is his complaint that the US and UK media  are censoring the remarks of the opposition to the present Iranian regime.

Whether this open letter has any effect on the attitudes and policies of the US and other Western countries is difficult to say. Given Obama’s deft handling of US policies, he may try to dismiss it as “representing the past”. But it has appeared at a time when it has the potential to at least stir the debate in the US and other countries including Australia.

Third, the author of the long article I forwarded yesterday (a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the US National Security Council) has updated his analysis. In it he says, inter alia, that there is in fact no agreement between the US and Iran even on the terms of the framework viz

“In truth, the negotiators had reached no understanding, historic or otherwise. Obama was celebrating something that did not exist—at least not yet. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had failed to agree on a text describing the terms of the so-called “Lausanne framework.” In its place, each issued a separate “fact sheet.” On some key issues the documents contradicted each other; on others they were entirely mute. Statements from officials did little to clarify the discrepancies or rectify the omissions. One official statement even seemed to widen the areas of disagreement”.

The author offers what appears to be perceptive further analyses of Obama’s attitudes, including that his primary goal is detente with Iran because “this will restrain Iranian behaviour more effectively than any formal agreement”. Note that, while he says that Congress is working on a bill that will give it the right to vote its approval or disapproval of the deal with Iran, he concludes that the odds are strongly in favour of Obama getting sufficient votes in Congress to defeat any such bill. Note also that Obama is said to be working to discredit the most persuasive opponent of the deal, Israeli PM Netanyahu.