While watching from the East of Suez the ugly wrangle playing out through many recent weeks between the White House and the U.S. Congress over a likely Iran deal, the thought that comes to mind is: ‘Which world are these politicians inhabiting?’ Uranus? Neptune? Pluto? They do not realize how silly they look to be so blissfully unaware of the realities of the world they happen to inhabit.

The only American politician who looks sensible in all this is President Barack Obama, who has a point that the framework agreement finalized in Lausanne a week ago is a signal achievement and the only way forward is to build on it in a constructive spirit.

Anyway, let us look ahead. What happens in the downstream if the U.S. lawmakers, cheered on by the Israeli leadership, ultimately manage to kill whatever deal comes out of the upcoming negotiations in the two-and-a-half months ahead? Yes, thereafter, what?

It’s small change that the right-wingers in the U.S. Congress will have rubbished the Obama presidency or would have ably represented the Israeli interests. They cannot overlook that they will also have incapacitated American diplomacy on the world stage for a long, long time to come.

Israel at least knows what to do next: ‘Bomb Iran, keep bomb Iran, bomb Iran with the bunker buster’. Understandably, Israel continues to remain the only nuclear weapon state in that part of the world. The Israeli leadership is very clear-headed about such situations and is readily action-oriented.

But on Wednesday, Iran’s “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani made it very clear in a series of statements that much as Tehran negotiates in a constructive spirit with America, it does not consider the U.S. Senate as its negotiating partner. He also said that much as Iran wants the removal of sanctions, it would not be at the cost of its nuclear technology capabilities. Period. Rouhani added — lest there be any confusion in America — that Iran expects the lifting of all sanctions – U.S., EU and UN sanctions – lifted on Day 1 of the implementation of any agreement worked out by July 1.

Indeed, Rouhani has merely voiced the consistent Iranian stance, articulated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself. There is remarkable cohesion at the leadership level in Tehran in comparison with the hopeless disarray in America.

Iran’s powerful Majlis has brought out on Wednesday a Fact Sheet on the Lausanne agreement (countering the U.S. state department’s version), which makes the following key demands:

  • The capping of Iran’s centrifuges should stand at 10000 instead of 6000.
  • Fordo should continue with nuclear fuel production and Iran reserves the right to restore Fordo to the 20 percent-grade enrichment, if need arises.
  • The US and EU sanctions shall be terminated concurrently in a single step at the start of the implementation of the (June) agreement.
  • There should be “reversible measures” built into the agreement so that Iran reserves the right to respond to any violation by the U.S.
  • The absolute time limit for the agreement should not exceed 5 years after which Iran should be free to pursue its nuclear program as any other NPT member state.

What it implies is that Iran also has its demands and when American diplomats negotiate, they need to do that in a spirit of give and take. It can’t be the John Wayne way.

Where does all this leave the American politicians opposed to Obama? Will they ask him to go to war with Iran if they are not happy with the deal he negotiates? They live in a fool’s paradise if they estimate that the sanctions policies will achieve anything. It didn’t achieve anything on North Korea or Pakistan and it won’t make Iran capitulate.

Besides, the world order is changing beyond recognition and the international system needs to adjust to the new realities. If Obama negotiates a deal with the participation of the “world powers” at the negotiating table, how could the U.S. Congress possibly pop its head over the parapet the day after and butt in to tell the “world powers” to forget about the deal and to demand that the sanctions route must be instead pursued with renewed vigor and even more robustly?

Who are these gentlemen on the Hill? They do not count in the world opinion. Russia just signaled that it is already looking beyond the sanctions regime by July 1 and is planning for a restoration of full-fledged strategic partnership with Iran – with a political and economic content and a heavily loaded military content.

Iran is already negotiating the establishment of a string of nuclear power plants by China, which may come to light during President Xi Jinping’s forthcoming visit. The U.S. no longer has the capacity to dictate policies to other countries.

The Houthis of Yemen didn’t bow down before the Saudi King, what to speak of U.S. Congressmen. It seems they just killed a Saudi general who was a Prince too. Shall we bring out the Daisy Cutter?

I have a lurking suspicion that Obama has been smart. The kind of brinkmanship that the right-wing Congressmen staged is not possible to be repeated every now and then. Now that they have done the grandstanding and are claiming to have humbled Obama, he is free to do what he wants, namely, reach a deal with Iran by end-June. This is vintage Obama, as any longtime observer of his political style would say.

Obama still retains his right to veto any attempt by the Congress to disapprove of the deal he negotiates. To override a veto, his opponents would have to muster an improbable two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate.But then, the world opinion will be so heavily in favor of the deal that the U.S. will be thoroughly isolated if the Congress rejects it without being in a position to offer a way forward other than going to war with Iran.

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M.K. Bhadrakumar

M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat who served for more than 29 years as an Indian Foreign Service officer with postings including India’s ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan.

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