Dangerous Ramifications of Reshuffled Iran Nuclear Deal

COMMENTARY Middle East

Dangerous Ramifications of Reshuffled Iran Nuclear Deal

Mar 28, 2022 5 min read
COMMENTARY BY
James Phillips

Senior Research Fellow, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center

James Phillips is a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian attends a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart following their talks in Moscow on March 15, 2022. MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

An agreement could be announced as soon as next week and is sure to be lauded as a diplomatic triumph by the Biden White House.

Tehran will pocket billions of dollars in sanctions relief to finance its hostile policy agenda.

The biggest beneficiaries of a renewed nuclear deal would be China and Russia. The biggest losers would be the U.S., its allies, and the Iranian people.

After being derailed in early March by Russia’s demand for protection against U.S. sanctions, the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are set to resume soon in Vienna, after Iran’s Nowruz holiday, a celebration of the Persian new year, which started Monday.

Although the negotiations are approaching the finish line, specific details about what already has been agreed to have not been divulged by the Biden administration. A State Department spokesman said on Monday that an agreement is “neither imminent nor certain.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Wednesday, “We believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before.” But he warned: “We reminded the Americans that we will not cross our red lines.”

Amirabdollahian likely was referring to two key issues that reportedly remain to be resolved: Tehran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be granted immunity from U.S. sanctions imposed on foreign terrorist organizations and its insistence on receiving a guarantee that the U.S. will not withdraw from the agreement, as President Donald Trump did in 2018.

Windfall for Revolutionary Guards

The Revolutionary Guards have become a major stumbling block of the negotiations because they represent many aspects of why Iran was sanctioned in the first place. Not only do they control vital portions of Iran’s covert nuclear weapons efforts, but they also control Iran’s ballistic missiles, orchestrate Iran’s proxy terrorist network, serve as the regime’s repressive Praetorian Guard, and dominate important sectors of Iran’s economy.

U.S. sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards are a necessary punitive action that drains their access to funds from their front companies and deters future terrorist attacks. 

If the sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards were lifted, the regime in Tehran will pocket more benefits from a new agreement than under the original deal, which did not include lifting nonnuclear sanctions. Moreover, the Revolutionary Guards will gain enormous economic benefits that they surely will use to finance malign activities.

An agreement could be announced as soon as next week and is sure to be lauded as a diplomatic triumph by the Biden White House.

But the deputy special envoy for Iran and two other diplomats who resigned from the U.S. negotiating team because they were alarmed by the scale of U.S. concessions at the talks have strong reasons to disagree with that spin.

The Biden administration appears to be on the verge of negotiating a weaker, shorter, and more risky deal with Iran than the Obama administration did in 2015.

Kicking Nuclear Can Down Road

Another flawed nuclear agreement with Iran will at best postpone the time of reckoning while a hostile and vengeful regime recovers from sanctions, builds up its ballistic missile arsenal, and exports terrorism to intimidate its regional adversaries and drive the U.S. out of the Middle East.

Although the Biden White House is sure to claim that an agreement puts Iran’s nuclear program “back in a box,” the walls of that box will become increasingly weak as the most restrictive provisions of the deal are scheduled to sunset. After those restrictions sunset, the agreement is likely to die in darkness.

Iran, allowed to build an industrial-scale uranium enrichment program, will be put on a glide path to a nuclear breakout or a covert “sneak-out.”

A revived nuclear deal would allow Tehran to trade short-term restrictions on its nuclear program that it could easily renege on, as it has many times before, in return for long-term sanctions relief.  But this sanctions relief for Iran would not bring relief from Iran’s proxy attacks.

In fact, the resurrection of the flawed 2015 agreement would not defuse tensions in the Middle East, but would fuel them. Iran’s aggressive dictatorship would become emboldened and empowered to escalate its intimidation tactics against its regional adversaries, as it did after the 2015 deal.

Tehran will pocket billions of dollars in sanctions relief to finance its hostile policy agenda. In effect, U.S. concessions on sanctions would subsidize Iran’s military buildup, expansion of its proxy terrorist network, and even Iran’s nuclear program.

Dismayed by a deal that would strengthen Iran’s Islamist dictatorship, countries threatened by Iran would hedge their security bets and seek insurance by improving ties to China and Russia for protection.  Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates already have taken steps in this direction.

China and Russia also would reap huge economic, strategic, and foreign policy benefits under the deal, which would remove barriers to closer relations with Tehran. Moscow, in addition to receiving immunity from U.S. nuclear sanctions, also would gain a huge customer for its arms, flush with cash due to sanctions relief.

China, which last year signed a 25-year, $400 billion strategic partnership with Iran, will gain easier access to a major source of oil imports, increased trade, and a reinvigorated ally in a vital oil-rich region.

Israel will be forced to take unilateral action, covertly or overtly, to delay Iran’s nuclear progress. That will lead to the intensification of the shadow war instigated by Iran against Israel, waged with new vigor by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and their proxies in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

To make matters worse, while Iran may become more aggressive, the Biden administration may become even more passive, fearful that a strong pushback against Iran’s destabilizing regional activities would jeopardize the illusory triumph of the vaunted nuclear deal.

Biggest Winners, Losers

The Biden administration’s complacent accommodation of a fiercely hostile Iranian regime is likely to yield a half-baked agreement that will only postpone a festering nuclear crisis, not resolve it.  

Another flawed agreement would kick the can down the road while flooding Iran with sanctions relief that will embolden the regime, accelerate its military buildup, and strengthen its proxy terrorist networks for future attacks. 

As noted above, in addition to Iran, the biggest beneficiaries of a renewed nuclear deal would be China and Russia.

The biggest losers would be the U.S., its allies, and the Iranian people, who would be condemned to live under the repression of a bolstered regime.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal