By Sir David Amess MP
The above title may seem like a contradiction in terms. To say that something is at once a failure and an opportunity is like saying that it is moving forward and backward at exactly the same time. But that is exactly what is happening with regard to Iran and its nuclear weapons programme.
And, it is by no means unheard of with respect to complex policy issues. We can move backward in one dimension while moving forward in others.
The undeniably weak nuclear deal is a step backward with respect to the type of concessions we could have gotten from Tehran if we had stuck to our guns. In that sense, it is a failure. But you can fail one test and still pass the entire course, and I remain hopeful that that will be the situation when Western policy, toward Iran, in particular that of American enters into new phases, especially after the end of the Obama presidency.
The fact is that any deal that did not involve complete abdication of their responsibilities by the U.S. and its allies would have still entailed a major retreat by the Iranian regime. For much of its existence, the Islamic Republic has maintained its nuclear ambitions as a major element of its strategy for holding onto power and pursuing regional hegemony.
Those ambitions remain in place and they remain viable, but the provisions of the nuclear deal mean that Iran will have to work harder to cheat its way to a bomb, or will have to wait ten years or so until it can begin to openly enrich uranium and advance its nuclear programme with the blessing of the global community.
The nuclear deal clearly does not exclude the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon at such a later date. But it does represent an opportunity to eliminate that possibility by making sure that Tehran’s clerical regime no longer exists after another ten years.
Presently, Obama administration officials are using words like “fantasy” to describe their opponents’ former demands for a nuclear deal that fully blocks Iran’s nuclear ambitions by forcing it to abandon all nuclear enrichment and to eliminate its ballistic missile stockpiles. Amidst this narrative, some Americans may be inclined to believe that it is also “fantastic” to expect that the Iranian regime could be driven toward collapse in a relatively short period of time. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei backed down on some of his declared red lines in the waning days of the nuclear negotiations. This points to the fact that the negotiations could have accomplished so much more, but it also highlights the fact that any retreat on the part of the regime exposes its internal vulnerability.
All of this was emphasised recently in a policy statement by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) regarding the way forward after the nuclear deal. As the primary movement in opposition to the clerical regime, the NCRI, who also revealed the regime's clandestine nuclear programme, has its eyes firmly fixed on the ever-growing domestic dissent in the Islamic Republic. It seems continued crackdowns on political activists have failed to put a stop to such calls for broad-based change.
Such internal threats make it all that much more self-defeating for the regime to draw back at all on the nuclear issue. Lacking legitimacy at home, it needs weapons of mass destruction for the sake of their effects on its status in the region. And this is all the more true in light of the growing challenges just outside of its borders, from Israeli dissent against a weak nuclear agreement to the formation of the Saudi-led coalition to combat Iran’s meddling in Yemen.
If it had only been Iran’s nuclear programme that had been vulnerable during the period of negotiations with the P5+1, the July 14 agreement would be a failure, full stop. But as long as it makes any progress at all, the possibility for victory over the clerical regime remains quite definite. And it depends more on our overall policy toward the regime than on our achievements in any one dimension.
Given the weakness of the nuclear deal, the only way we can now guarantee that Iran does not become a nuclear weapon state is if we help to facilitate the end of the government and the national ideology that has Tehran committed to that outcome. And regime's current weakness means that this can be done without much investment on the part of Western democracies. It can be done simply by actively acknowledging the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people and supporting the existing opposition to the regime on both the regional and the domestic scale.
But failing for formalisation of this policy, including open cooperation with the NCRI, led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, a tolerant Muslim woman and clear endorsement of the actions of the Arab coalition, we will have truly squandered our opportunity, not just with respect to the Iranian nuclear programme but with respect to the broader threats that Iran poses to global security.
That is to say, under a weak nuclear deal, Iran stands to be greatly enriched by sanctions relief and global investment. It will take time for the regime’s economy to recover, especially in light of its chronic mismanagement and the persistent self-serving influence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Thus, there is a clear window of opportunity, but it is already gradually closing, and if we do not act quickly the Iranian threat will grow beyond anything we have seen in 35 years.
I am far from convinced that the US Congress are going to endorse President Obama’s agreement with the Iranian President, Rouhani. Jaw-Jaw is always preferable to War-War, but we should be very mindful and cautious in our dealings with Iran at the current moment in time. So I urge the British Government and the Foreign Office to proceed very warily on this issue.