WASHINGTON -- Despite the controversy in Congress and on cable TV about the nuclear arms agreement with Iran, the view in the diplomatic community here is calm, clear and simple: “It’s a done deal,” said one key ambassador.
President Barack Obama argues that the seven-nation deal merits support for its own sake. Anyone who reads the whole document, he says, will come away convinced that it does what the U.S. and its allies set out to do: to deny Iran, at least for a decade or more, the ability to build a bomb.
But whether Obama is correct on the internal details or not, there are external reasons to think that the G-7 envoy I spoke with was right that Obama would get his way.
Here’s a list:
Saudi caution. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are furiously opposed to the deal. As recent WikiLeaks cables show, the Sunni Saudis view Shiite-led Iran as its moral foe in the global theological war for the hearts and minds of the Muslim faithful.
Critics worry that Iran, invigorated by post-sanctions cash and renewed economic ties to major trading partners, will go on a buying spree that will prompt a Sunni response -- and spawn a new conventional arms race in the region.
But don’t expect the Saudis to fill the U.S. airwaves with anti-Iran warnings, or the halls of Congress with lobbyists or sheiks.
“They don’t operate that way,” said an American advisor to the kingdom. “They are never going to disagree here with a president in public. Why? Because they want to maintain the trust of presidents. They think that if they undercut this one, why would the next president trust them?”
Israel alone. With potential allies seething but silent, the Jewish state is in a tough spot. Obama admits that Israel’s fearfulness is justified. At the same time, the president lumps Israel’s elected leader in with Republicans he accuses of mindlessly opposing the deal for political reasons.
in part, the Netanyahu government has brought this predicament on itself. By openly, aggressively and even operationally allying itself with the GOP in Washington and at the grassroots, Israel has turned itself into the partisan player it never had been. Now, Republicans will line up as one, if for no other reason than they reject everything Obama does. But such partisan rancor flows both ways. Some Democrats who otherwise might vote against the deal will stick with Obama if for no other reason than that the GOP is for it.
Grease for squeaky wheels. Although Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (and the Pentagon, for that matter) warn that Iran will start a new regional arms race, they're willing to augment it by demanding upgrades of their own weaponry from the U.S. "They're going to demand to be taken care of and they will be," said the G-7 ambassador. In fact, Obama said as much in his press conference.
Follow the money. Obama rightly noted that other nations aren’t eager to continue the ironbound economic sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years. But he hasn't really explained why. It's not so much that they want to buy oil from Iran. It’s that they want to sell goods, services and financing to Iran.
A good example is the German industrial giant Siemens. Germany and Siemens have a long and lucrative history in Iran. But by insisting on a “secondary” embargo on Iran, the U.S. told foreign companies that, if they traded with Iran, they could not conduct new business in America.
Siemens, General Electric’s main global competitor, was forced to forego billions of dollars worth of sales of industrial equipment and services in Iran if it wanted to keep its U.S. business.
Now Siemens –- and the German government -- want that Iranian business back. Same for France, the U.K., Russia and China.
(Ironically, the new deal won't free U.S. companies to renew business in Iran, at least for a time.)
Hillary's deal, too. More hawkish by nature and by record than some Democrats, and historically close to Israel’s strongest supporters in the U.S., Hillary Clinton might have kept some distance from a deal like the one Obama struck. But of course she could not. As Obama's secretary of state, she had been a part of the process that led to the talks. In some senses, the deal is hers as much as the president’s. That’s of course even more true for another top Democrat and former presidential candidate, Secretary of State John Kerry. He literally broke his leg to get the deal.
U.N. and EU. As Obama notes, the U.S. is only part of the sanctions regime, although his leadership was crucial to tightening it. The United Nations Security Council and the European Union conceivably could end sanctions on their own, whatever the Congress does. If the U.S. wants to maintain a measure of control, it has little choice but to go along.
Iranians 'R Us. Quietly but effectively, the Iranian diaspora in the U.S. and in Europe has been making the case that the bloodthirsty mullahs of Teheran can best be tamed by renewed trade and contact with the West and the world.
It’s not surprising that they would think that way, in that most of them are educated professionals who fled their homeland after the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah.
Whether their view is realistic or not, it is stirring, hopeful and heartfelt. Activists such as Soroush Richard Shehabi, a Harvard-trained business leader in Washington, have allied with anti-Netanyahu Israelis and American Jews on a host of issues. They can be effective now.
They have key allies in the White House, such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice and her deputy, former speechwriter Ben Rhodes.
It's good to be president. In the end, presidents usually get their way on international deals. The major exception was Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He helped found the League of Nations after World War I, but couldn’t convince Republicans in the Senate to allow the U.S. to join. Sounds familiar, but this time the result will likely be different.
It’s about the math. Obama and his allies on the Iran deal call it a “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” -- not a treaty. As a result, the president doesn’t need to get “yeas” from two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. He only needs to get one-third, plus one.