The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Elusive Deal Iran Takes Its Show on The Road

A date has been set for Iran and the P5+1 powers to work out how to implement the landmark nuclear deal. To what extent we’re actually witnessing the prelude to a historic bargain remains something of a mystery, as reports of the December 9–10 meeting in Vienna show a deal far from clear or complete:

Western diplomats said the experts must iron out nitty gritty matters of implementation not addressed in Geneva before the deal can be put into practice.

These include how and when the IAEA will conduct its expanded inspections and other technical issues.

In next week’s talks, government experts will also discuss details of which components Iran is not allowed to install at the Arak plant under the agreement, as well as issues pertaining to sequencing of gestures by both sides.

Given that the IAEA claims it doesn’t have the money or the manpower to carry out the inspections called for in the deal, and that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claims the right to continue construction at Arak, how and when the inspections and construction restrictions are to be implemented seems like something of an afterthought. Have the western powers already come up with the funding and staffing the IAEA requires? Has Iran quietly acquiesced to a partial construction freeze at its heavy-water reactor? It’s unclear.

Evelyn Gordon at Commentary has elaborated on Adam Garfinkle’s surprise at just how perfunctory this deal seems to be: Since the November 24 accord, Iran has also claimed the US is lying about the terms of the deal, and announced its intention to increase production of low-enriched uranium. This all before the actual implementation of an “interim” six-month deal that isn’t scheduled to begin until January.

If US-led sanctions really had coerced Iran into pleading for a deal, we would likely be witnessing something different. As it stands, Iran looks to be emerging from the sanctions saga with the upper hand. Its influence is spreading and its clients succeeding, from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Foreign Minister Zarif is currently on a tour of the Gulf, looking to expand that clout by mending and strengthening financial links and touting Iranian diplomatic prestige. This is not the behavior of a country that has just ruefully acquiesced to western demands.

2014 should give us a better idea of whether the Obama administration is serious about making sure Iran meets US demands, or whether it will take the best face-saving retreat it can get. For now, the forecast seems very uncertain.

Published on December 6, 2013 4:05 pm