Iran Is Already Winning

As global talks over Iran’s nuclear program resume in Vienna this week, one can’t help wonder whether, in a larger sense, the die of an Iranian regional, military and economic victory has already been cast. From Washington to Berlin, Moscow to Beijing, and many places in between, Iran’s isolation is disappearing as governments and businesses prepare to exploit its return to global respectability.

The future seems clear: One way or another, sanctions relief is coming, Western firms will pour into Iran, Tehran will get the financial resources to flex its muscles more aggressively across the Middle East, and its regional adversaries will make their own plans to counter the Iranian thrust – all while Tehran continues to pursue nuclear weaponry because the world has largely conceded the means to stop it.

To be sure, the P5+1 negotiators (the United States and other world powers) and Iran continue to wrangle over the most basic issues – uranium enrichment, inspections and sanctions relief – suggesting their “framework” accord of April 2 is more myth than reality and a final deal by June 30 could prove elusive.

In addition, bipartisan legislation that gives Congress the power to reject a final deal (which President Barack Obama now reluctantly backs only because he lacked the votes to stop it) surely will complicate the talks by constraining U.S. negotiators while raising questions among Iranian officials. Nevertheless, governments and businesses act as if a deal is inevitable because Obama seems hell-bent on getting one at any cost and because, even if Congress disapproves, Obama has enormous power to implement one anyway.

The latest sign of Obama’s unchained eagerness came with his recent signal of flexibility on sanctions relief for Iran, refusing to affirm that sanctions will be phased out rather than lifted immediately and explaining that his “main concern” is how to “reinstate sanctions” if Iran violates the deal. On a related point, administration officials reportedly told lawmakers that Iran could receive $30 billion to $50 billion of its oil revenue that’s frozen in foreign accounts upon signing an agreement.

That evoked predictable dismay from such congressional skeptics as House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, who told the Wall Street Journal, “Through the negotiations, we’ve lost ground, and Iran in every step of this negotiation has gained ground. … The idea that they will have snap backs … is not a credible argument.”

Congressional rejection of a final deal, however, may do little to derail administration desires to implement one, experts told the Associated Press. The president could suspend some sanctions on his own, issue orders to work around others, remove Iranian individuals and firms from U.S. target lists for sanctions, and work with Europe to neutralize other sanctions that Congress has imposed. Iran could gain access to some $118 billion in oil revenue alone in about the first year of a deal, according to Mark Dubowitz, a sanctions expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Not surprisingly, businesses and governments read the tea leaves from Washington and react accordingly. In recent days, about two dozen U.S. venture capitalists and business executives visited Iran in anticipation of future business opportunities, while executives from Chevron Corp., Amec Foster Wheeler PLC and other global oil companies met with Iranian officials in Vienna with much the same thing in mind.

Beyond oil, European firms are licking their chops at the prospect of Iranian business. The interim nuclear deal of late 2013 sparked a reported 30 percent rise in German exports to Iran, and Germany’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry foresees exports rising significantly in the coming years.

What’s true in the business world is true in the government sector. Russia announced that it will deliver S-300 missile defense systems to Iran, which it had refused to do since 2009, making any U.S. or Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites far more difficult. In addition, Russia and China have agreed to help Iran build five new nuclear power plants, opening new avenues for Iranian nuclear weaponry.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Iran this week to ink a new intelligence-gathering agreement with Tehran, marking the first high-level talks between the two countries in more than a decade.

Are you ready for a global nuclear agreement with Iran that delights Obama, enriches Western businesses, empowers Iran, frightens our regional allies and leaves the Middle East a much more dangerous place? The world seems to be.

Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

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