In Washington, the reality of the nuclear deal is settling in

Sunday 24/04/2016
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, on April 5th, by State Department Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon, Jr. on recent Iranian actions and implementati

Washington - The moment the nuclear agreement was reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries, it became clear that the devil would be in the details. Despite Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles and the additional US sanctions on Tehran during the first 90 days of imple­menting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), there is no doubt that the nuclear deal is here to stay.
The United States and Iran have made great strides in their politi­cal dialogue, a dramatic shift that left each country’s hardliners un­comfortable, to say the least, while moderates continude to struggle in making the case for engagement.
As US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting Israel in March, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) tested ballistic mis­siles with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” written on them in Hebrew.
Not only did the timing of this coincide with Biden’s visit, it also took place on the same day that the International Atomic Energy Agen­cy released the first monitoring re­port since the implementation of the JCPOA. The report concluded that Iran fulfilled its commitments, which may have encouraged ele­ments of the Iranian regime to shift the attention to the missiles test instead.
Hardliners in Tehran remain con­vinced that the United States can­not be trusted. This sentiment was echoed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as by one of his closest aides, Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of the Expe­diency Discernment Council and a former general in the IRGC, who hinted on April 9th that the Iranian regime has made a concession by merely not broadcasting military drills.
Khamenei publicly stated on March 30th that the United States did not keep its side of the bargain — lifting sanctions and restoring trade relations. However, the most poignant point he made was en­dorsing further talks with the Unit­ed States as long as it goes hand in hand with retaining what he calls Iran’s “defensive power”.
In this context, Khamenei is sug­gesting that the missiles test will continue as a display of Iranian power and that Tehran will not ne­gotiate with the United States un­armed.
Obviously, moderates on both sides are resisting the temptation to revert to confrontation. US Presi­dent Barack Obama warned on April 1st that the missile tests would dis­courage foreign businesses from in­vesting in Iran. Under-Secretary of State Thomas Shannon during a US Senate hearing on April 5th said “it is up to Iran to decide the scope and pace of engagement” with Wash­ington.
There is a change in tone on the agreement in the US Congress. Dur­ing a hearing regarding the imple­mentation of the JCPOA, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, R-Tennes­see, affirmed that the committee’s only intention was to enforce the deal, not counter it.
The main contentious point be­tween the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress is over whether the United States should make it easier for Iranians to ben­efit from the JCPOA. While the White House is willing to take the initiative to explain to concerned foreign banks what is permitted in providing cash access to Iranian en­tities and individuals, Republicans want to make sure that Iranians do not gain access to the US financial system, in particular with the Iran Sanctions Act expiring at the end of 2016.
There is indeed no indication that the Obama administration will change course on its Iran policy in its last nine months in office and it is expected to continue to manage the balancing act of simultaneously engaging and deterring Iran in a manner that reflects the divide in Washington about the best way to contain Tehran. Khamenei is con­cerned about Iran’s economic re­covery as much as he is about the weakening of its regional posture, prompting him to pursue a policy of meticulously balancing the re­gime’s moderates and hardliners.
Beyond the rhetoric and the mis­siles test, the nuclear deal is the cornerstone of a new regional dy­namic for the next decade at least where Iran and the United States will have to maintain a dialogue on implementing the JCPOA while simultaneously vying for regional influence. Adjusting to this new re­ality is a tedious process for bureau­cracies in Washington and Tehran; yet for both sides, the cost of walk­ing away from the deal is far greater than adjusting to its consequences.