Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Towards a deal on Iran

US President Barack Obama is determined to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme before the deadline, despite opposition in Congress, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many ordinary Americans may not know who their vice-president is, but somehow they have heard of Iran. They know that Iran is important for their president as it often comes up in his speeches, and they may also remember the friendship between Iran and the US that existed when the shah was ruling the country.

Good memories of the pre-revolutionary period and bad memories of the post-revolutionary one, including the US hostage crisis, contribute to the cocktail of views many Americans have regarding Iran.

US President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union Address in January, focused on domestic matters of interest to Americans, but he did not miss the opportunity to address his main foreign policy interest, Iran.

Obama told members of the US Congress of the need to continue talks with Iran on its controversial nuclear programme. “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear programme and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material,” he said.

House Speaker John Boehner, sitting behind Obama and next to Vice-president Joe Biden, showed his disagreement with the president in his body language.

The president asked Congress to hold to the negotiations and let diplomacy work. Said Obama, “Between now and this spring we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”

For Obama, there is one solution to tackle extremism without entering into another war and this is to find a stable regional ally that also has an interest in fighting terrorism and extremism. Iran fits the bill as it has long borders with Iraq and has influence with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Hezbullah in Lebanon.

Iran’s nuclear programme can be curbed while the country’s ambitions of becoming a regional power can also help the United States to combat terrorism.

 Apparently, the majority of members of Congress think differently, however, and they believe Obama is wrong to see Iran as a potential US partner. While the president asked Congress to halt any action against Iran at least until the deadline of July 1, when the interim nuclear agreement expires, Congress is pursuing a different agenda.

 Because the majority of the House is against a nuclear agreement with Tehran, it wants to quickly pass a new round of sanctions against Iran. What the Congress is pushing for is the dismantling of all of Iran’s nuclear activity, not part of it, and this is also exactly what Israel is asking for too.

Obama has threatened to use his veto if Congress approves new sanctions against Iran at a time when diplomatic channels are open and talks ongoing. In Iran, too, there are members of political institutions and in parliament who are against the nuclear deal with the US, but for different reasons.

Iran’s conservative hardliners fear that the nuclear deal could normalise relations with the US in the near future. Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif was summoned to parliament on Sunday to answer ridiculous questions about why he had walked with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the streets of Geneva.

The hardliners saw the incident as evidence of closeness between the two men, and this raised the alarm for them. Zarif, in his defence, said that after a discussion the two men had decided to change the atmosphere by taking a 15-minute walk. Because there was no suitable place in the hotel, the two men went outside.

The Iranian MPs fear the reaching of a nuclear agreement with the US, and their reaction showed the sort of irrationality that the world has recently also seen in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has acknowledged that a deal between Iran and the US is on the cards, but has defended his upcoming trip to the US, despite his criticisms of Obama and the US administration. “I’ll go wherever I’m invited to defend Israel against Iran,” Netanyahu said.

 Netanyahu was invited to address a joint session of Congress by Boehner, without coordination with the administration, to help Congress sabotage plans for Iran and the US to reach a comprehensive deal before the deadline.

 “In the coming weeks, the major powers are liable to reach a framework agreement with Iran, an agreement that is liable to leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state, which would endanger — first and foremost — the existence of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

As much as the pressures are increasing on Iran and the US, it seems that the two governments are also increasing their speed to finalise a deal before their opponents seize the opportunity to end the talks.

Only two weeks separated the Geneva talks from the Davos meeting, and the next round of high-level talks among the negotiating team of the P5+1 countries, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, will be held in Istanbul today, Thursday.

Zarif has also announced that the next ministerial level talks will be held on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany from 4 to 6 February.

The nuclear talks are an extremely important matter, but handling the external pressures to secure a deal before the talks end will be quite another challenge. Iran and the United States have shown themselves to be optimistic about reaching an agreement by March and finalising the deal before the deadline on 1 July.

Meanwhile, Congress listened to Obama’s speech, but the very next day it was revealed that the invitation had been sent to Netanyahu to talk about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear programme. Not only was the invitation itself provocative, but the date scheduled for Netanyahu’s speech is the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

As soon as Congress, or Netanyahu, realised the delicacy of the date it was rescheduled to March. But Congress and Netanyahu, between them, have already added much to the irritation and tensions between them and the Obama administration over Iran.

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