Analysts, diplomats, and journalists are continuing to pile on concerns regarding structural asymmetries in a recently signed agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran, with attention increasingly turning toward how the imbalances between what Iran got and what Iran gave up may disadvantage the United States and its allies heading into comprehensive negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Pointing to language in the Geneva deal that seems to envision Iran being allowed to continue enriching uranium indefinitely, coupled with language under which constraints on such enrichment would be time-bound, the Washington Post had already worried late last month that “the agreement leaves the United States and its partners at a disadvantage in negotiating the comprehensive settlement.” The Post‘s broad concerns were subsequently echoed by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.
In these circumstances, the major American negotiating leverage—the threatened reimposition and strengthening of sanctions—risks losing its edge. For individuals, companies and countries (including some allied countries), the loss of business with Iran has been economically significant. Most will be less vigilant about enforcing or abiding by sanctions that are the subject of negotiations and that seem to be “on the way out.” This risk will be enhanced if the impression takes hold that the U.S. has already decided to reorient its Middle East policy toward rapprochement with Iran. The temptation will be to move first, to avoid being the last party to restore or build trade, investment and political ties.
Therefore, too, the proposition that a series of interim agreements balancing nuclear constraints against tranches of sanctions relief is almost certainly impractical. Another tranche would spell the end of the sanctions regime. It will need to be part of a final agreement.
Kissinger and Shultz gestured toward a scenario, sketched out early by critics but dismissed as “fanciful” by analysts with ties to the Obama administration, under which a reduction in sanctions triggers a feeding frenzy that would badly erode the entire sanctions regime, as companies and nations rushed to be first back into the Iranian market. Movements in currency and oil markets immediately after the deal was announced were in line with the concerns of critics, and yesterday the Associated Press noted that Iran was preparing both diplomatically and economically for a surge in oil production. Today the Washington Free Beacon published Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) similarly worrying that the Geneva deal deprived the U.S. of leverage.
“What leverage does the U.S. have when the Obama administration is easing up on sanctions while a final agreement is still just a tiny speck on a far away horizon?” asked Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) “The single most significant thing we can do to help stop a nuclear weapons capable Iran is to pass crippling new sanctions in the Senate and further tighten the vice, forcing Iran’s leadership to choose between abandoning this dangerous path or facing certain economic ruin,” Roskam told the Free Beacon.