While complications could still arise in implementation, there are strong consequences if Iran violates the agreement: The potential failure of diplomacy, the likelihood of increasing economic pressure and renewed consideration of military action.
Further, recent complications in ensuring that Iran receives unfrozen oil revenues under the JPOA foreshadows the much more difficult challenge of lifting sanctions in a final agreement. While the president maintains limited waiver authorities, he does not have the power to lift sanctions unilaterally. That authority rests with Congress, which to date has been more interested in piling on sanctions than removing them. As the JPOA indicates that all nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted in a final deal, there are serious questions as to whether Congress and the administration can work in concert to uphold America’s end of the bargain.
Nuclear Talks Aren’t About Trust, But Verification
Ignore all of the complaints about how we can’t trust Iran. With limitations to Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intrusive inspections, we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes — or detect any Iranian move to break out with sufficient time to respond. If you distrust Iran, you should be for the stringent inspections provided under the JPOA and the expansion of authorities for international inspectors in any final deal. After all, no Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty state under this level of IAEA inspection has ever clandestinely broken out and obtained a nuclear weapon.
Further, Iran’s recent diplomacy reflects the polar opposite of a state pursuing nuclear weapons. By inviting inspectors in and agreeing to limitations on its nuclear program, Iran is drastically reducing the chances of a successful breakout. A comprehensive deal would only diminish those chances further.
A Final Nuclear Deal Can Be Struck Within Six Months
There have been numerous distractions over the past three months, including Iran nominating a UN ambassador that served as a translator during the Iran hostage crisis — a formative event for many Americans’ negative perceptions of Iran — and the United States then rejecting that nomination in an apparent violation of international law.
However, these distractions have not yet derailed the negotiating process or diverted the parties from their main goal of striking a nuclear deal. This is likely because all parties know that they have never been this close to reaching agreement. If each side stays on track, there is every reason to believe that an agreeable solution can be struck before the July 20 deadline of the JPOA.
There is, of course, a possibility that the JPOA will need to be extended in three months. While the national security benefits of doing so are clear, an extension would open up an opportunity for opponents on each side to attack the deal and push forward poison pills — such as new U.S. sanctions or restrictions on sanctions relief. Rather than exert additional political capital on fighting domestic opponents yet again, the United States and Iran would be wise to preserve that capital for upholding a deal by reaching agreement by July 20, if possible.
Ryan Costello is a policy fellow with the National Iranian American Council.