Washington Institute Director: Rejection of Nuclear Deal Will Not Lead To War

A Congressional vote to disapprove of the nuclear deal with Iran will not lead to war, Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in an analysis Monday.

First, Iran is unlikely to respond to congressional disapproval by enriching uranium with reckless abandon and thereby validating the skeptics who never trusted its commitment to a solely peaceful nuclear program. After Tehran has painstakingly worked for two decades both to advance a program that is on the verge of attaining breathtaking international legitimacy and to end nuclear-related sanctions, it would make little sense to chuck those achievements in a state of pique. To the contrary, Iran is far more likely to fulfill its core requirements so as to earn the termination of UN and EU sanctions that would come with IAEA certification. Along the way, Tehran would note that America, not the Islamic Republic, was isolated because of its intransigence.

For its part, Europe is unlikely to respond to a vote of disapproval by unilaterally terminating its sanctions. More likely, it would to want to see its negotiating position validated by following the agreement’s terms — that is, waiting until Iran fulfills its core requirements before rewarding it with sanctions relief. …

Today, the Europeans are likely to pursue a similar approach, so the outcome will rest on the Obama administration’s response. If the administration maintains effective enforcement of its nuclear-related sanctions, along with enforcement of the primary and secondary aspects of the nonnuclear sanctions that will be unaffected by the Iran deal, European business leaders are ultimately unlikely to value the Iranian market more than the U.S. market, and much of the existing sanctions regime would stay in place.

Satloff acknowledged that the result of a vote for disapproval would be “murky” but that there would be “a low probability” of the disapproval leading to war.

Satloff pointed out that a Congressional vote of disapproval would only affect unilateral American sanctions. Iran could, as a result of such a vote, submit a complaint against the United States for its violations of the terms of the agreement, but it is unlikely to withdraw from the agreement until after sanctions are lifted. The president could respond to a Congressional vote of disapproval by reopening negotiations with the parties, coming up with a more effective agreement, and then asking Congress to vote on an improved deal. The president could also challenge Congress’ authority or to pursue a less energetic enforcement of sanctions.

In his conclusion, Satloff wrote:

While a vote of disapproval would restrict the president’s authority to fulfill one U.S. obligation under the accord — waiving sanctions — this most likely would not become a live issue until early-to-mid-2016. Until then, much could happen to change the situation, ranging from improvements in the deal that merit subsequent congressional support to new revelations of secret Iranian nuclear activity that would validate congressional skepticism.

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