Washington will not sell out allies, former adviser says

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Addressing fears raised by the Iranian nuclear agreement, former presidential advisor Dennis Ross said that the deal is neither a breakthrough nor a surrender.

Dennis Ross, former adviser to President Barack Obama on Iran and the Middle East, said that the interim agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, or P5+1, on Iran’s nuclear file “is neither a breakthrough nor a surrender,” but a mechanism to “stop the Iranian nuclear clock for six months” to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

Ross told Al-Hayat that the comprehensive agreement “is about the nuclear [file],” and not a “grand bargain” as promoted in 2003. He believes that a failure to conclude a comprehensive agreement will bring about the military option, pointing out that in his view Obama will not likely shift from the policy of containment to that of prevention.

Ross, who is still close to the US administration despite leaving his White House post at the end of 2011, asserted that the Geneva deal “is neither a breakthrough nor a surrender; but buys time.” From his office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he said, “Transparency measures in the interim agreement are stronger than ever because they include daily inspections of the main [nuclear] sites. For the first time, we have assistance to enter the locations of centrifuge production and reactors. What we will be able to do is stop the clock for a nuclear Iran or significantly slow it down, till we see if there’s a possibility to reach a bigger agreement.”

He added, “Most of the sanctions on the regime will still be in place, and if the Iranians try to evade implementing the initial agreement, they will be risking later concessions on sanctions. The goal now is to freeze the program to see whether an overall agreement is possible. And if it is possible, we will be in a different place. That would mean an end to the entire Iranian [nuclear] program. But if that’s not possible, we will have to reexamine other options, including the use of force, or change our goal from preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons to containing a nuclear Iran. And I don’t think that this administration will do that.” Ross said that if the negotiations fail, “we would be able to say that we gave diplomacy a chance and it didn’t succeed. Then we should look at other options.”

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He also pointed out that the deal doesn’t give Iran the right to enrich uranium, but implicitly alludes to a practical acceptance of that. There is a difference between the two. He called for the comprehensive agreement that would come later to match the “UN resolutions, which call for freezing uranium enrichment. And the administration believes that it now holds the [trump] card and it will not concede on the UN resolutions.”

Legitimate fears

Ross acknowledged that there are legitimate fears regarding the agreement and the weakening of the sanctions, adding, “The basic sanctions are still in place and will be applied firmly and in cooperation with our allies because [the sanctions] are an essential leverage for the success of any negotiations.”

Ross said that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “might be in favor of a comprehensive agreement, but they cannot deliver it now. They want to use the [current] agreement to strengthen their positions to conclude a comprehensive agreement later.” Regarding the Obama administration, “If we don’t freeze the [nuclear] program now, we cannot reach a comprehensive agreement. I don’t know what the chances are of a comprehensive agreement. Even the administration is testing this hypothesis without necessarily knowing how likely it is to be achieved.”

He pointed out, “How the interim agreement was reached gives the impression that it could be renewed in six months based on the consent of both parties. And I think that there is a need for negotiations that would last one year in order to succeed in concluding a comprehensive agreement.”

Turning to concerns in the region and the crisis of confidence between Washington and its allies regarding the Iranian issue, Ross said, “For Obama, this is a possibility but many in the region don’t realize it because of what happened with Syria.” He said, “Iran’s file is completely different [from] Syria’s. Obama has always been reluctant to go beyond economic and political pressure to influence the situation in Syria. This was clear from the start. He didn’t consider [Syria] to be a vital US interest but he considered that Iran having nuclear weapons constitutes a threat to the United States and to national security. I think the fear of getting entangled in Syria is part of Obama’s calculations about Iran.”

Regarding fears that Washington will allow Tehran to dominate the region or that Washington will abandon its allies, Ross said that such concerns have been around for a long time, even before the interim agreement and before the Syrian crisis. He said that they are “the result of fears of Iran’s role in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria. So Washington is working to build a security, military and economic structure with its allies to deal with this matter at the bilateral and regional levels. This has not changed,  but we have intensified our cooperation in maritime security and defense matters, specifically for this reason. Washington won’t sell out its allies or conclude a deal at their expense. Washington is trying to say that it will not change its stance on Iran’s behavior but is looking to settle the nuclear issue. There’s the impression that we will return to the days of the shah. But this is only possible if Iran accepts to completely reverse its behavior in the region.”

He stressed, “The negotiations are on the nuclear issue. It is not a grand bargain as promoted in 2003, when the talk was about Hezbollah and Hamas. Now we are looking [only] at the nuclear [file].”

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Found in: us middle east policy, syria civil war, p5+1, mohammad javad zarif, iranian nuclear issue, iran sanctions, hezbollah, hassan rouhani, hamas, barack obama
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