The Iran nuclear talks are headed into overtime. Iran out-negotiated the US, says expert Mark Dubowitz. In an interview with DW, he explains why no deal might be better than a bad one.
DW: Nuclear talks in Vienna have been extended. Do you think there will be a comprehensive deal between the P5+1 and Iran?
Mark Dubowitz: I am sure there will be a deal. At this point, the US has made major concessions to Iran. It has given away the original US positions on every one of many demands, and it would be ridiculous for their Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to refuse this deal.
That sounds like Iran would be the only one profiting from that deal. How do you see it?
Iran came in with a very weak hand under punishing sanctions, multiple UN Security Council resolutions, internationally isolated. In less than two years they completely flipped the table on the P5+1.
The Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna: this is where the future of Iran's nuclear program is being decided
Their strategy was to hold to their positions: refuse to compromise on major demands that their program be dismantled, that their long range ballistic missile program be ended, that they suspend all enrichment and that they resolve all outstanding questions relating to the military dimensions of their program and then also give full unfettered anywhere, anytime access to all facilities.
They stuck to their demands and rejected the US requirements. They really came in as a third-rate power negotiating with a super power and ended up negotiating like the super power - quite a remarkable achievement for this country.
How do you think Iran managed to out-negotiate the United States?
The Iranians achieved that by doing something very clever. In the beginning of the negotiations they said if you pass new sanctions, if you increase the pressure on us in any way, we will walk away from the table. If we do so, we will escalate our nuclear program. You will only have one choice: use military force to stop our nuclear expansion. President Obama, we know you won't use military force. In fact, we know you won't even use crippling sanctions. So you won't walk away from the table. And even if you do, you will quickly come back because you are passionately, fundamentally, ideologically committed to compromise for doctrine and transformation.
Isn't compromise a basic part of every negotiation?
But compromise doesn't mean acceding to most of the demands of the other side, especially when that side is in flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions for pursuing an illicit military nuclear program. I think that there is no doubt that most people at this point, and certainly the supreme leader of Iran, believe that President Obama is desperate for a deal. Everybody understands that with the Middle East melting down, with Russia invading Ukraine, with the world in crisis, with ISIS on the rise, President Obama has no other opportunity for a foreign policy achievement. This is his only opportunity, and he has pursued it relentlessly and vigorously to the point where nobody believes that he is willing to walk away, despite the rhetoric that no deal is better than a bad deal.
Why do you think it would be a bad deal?
The fundamental problem here is that key restrictions will go away after 10 years. Most of them will be gone after 15 years. What we were essentially handing to the Iranian regime is a massive program with virtually undetectable nuclear breakout before the IAEA ever declares this program as peaceful.
But Iran did commit to reduce the number of its centrifuges and of its uranium stockpile, for example. And the sanctions can be re-imposed any time…
This is all some sort of procedural kabuki dance to have both sides be able to claim victory. The Iranians can claim that they got the sanctions relief on the day of signing and the US administration can claim the Iranians only got it once they took some important nuclear steps.
But the fundamental reality is that over time Iran will get a massive infusion of economic relief. It will create a much more powerful economy and a much more resilient economy.
The Iranians want to be in a position where their economy is powerful enough to resist any snapback sanctions. They want to put themselves in a position where Germany has already invested tens of billions of dollars in the Iranian economy, as have other European countries, as have the Russians, the Chinese. At that point, countries will resist any snapback sanctions in response to Iranian violations because of their own economic and political interests. That is what Iran is counting on. It is counting on the ability to immunize itself against future economic pressure and remove the ability the P5+1 to use snapback sanctions as an enforcement mechanism.
Will hardliners in Iran profit if a nuclear deal with the Rouhani administration fails?
I think this deal is designed and approved by the hardliners precisely because they see that they will be the major beneficiaries of such a deal. We have got to remember some fundamental facts about Iran. The hard men of Iran are the men who control Iran's economy. They are the men who have control of Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program. They have control over the repression infrastructure that brutalizes Iranian citizens. And they are in control of Iran's military and Revolutionary forces and the Quds Force.
This deal is a great benefit to them. They will get hundreds of billions of dollars of cash funds to support their overseas regional expansionism. They will get a nuclear deal where all they have to do is be a little bit patient. And, after a decade, they will wiggle themselves free and build an industrial-sized program with unlimited enrichment capacity and virtually undetectable breakout.
Mark Dubowitz is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan policy institute based in Washington, DC. He is an expert on sanctions, has testified before US Congress and advised the US administration, lawmakers and foreign governments on Iran and sanctions issues.