THE BLOG
07/19/2015 06:13 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2016

Congress Relegated to Catch-Up Role After UN Approves Iran Deal

(Updates with vote)
The United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to endorse the Iran deal, giving it the force of international law and relegating opposition in the U.S. Congress to a secondary role.

Among the 15 member countries in the Council are the five veto-bearing nations that negotiated the deal -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China (along with Germany, not currently in the Council). This means the provisions of the agreement are binding on all signatories to the deal, including Iran as well as all other U.N. members.

The agreement that places long-term curbs on Iran's nuclear program will not go into force for at least 60 days, theoretically giving Congress a chance to vote on it. But what can it do? Lawmakers can refuse to lift US-enacted sanctions against Iran and/or prevent American companies from trading with Iran. In response Iran might renege on its part of the deal.

In short, it is unclear what would happen next. But in many ways the ball game is over for those opposing the agreement.

Why is there a deal?

The main reason for the deal was a fear that the many U.N. sanctions resolutions were beginning to fray. While they impoverished much of Iran's economy, they did not lessen its nuclear ambitions. The agreement is aimed at doing just that, despite its obvious pitfalls of possible unanticipated violations.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power distributed the resolution on Wednesday and briefed the 10 rotating members of the Security Council. Iran's U.N. Ambassador Gholam Ali Khoshroo also briefed the members of the Council, said Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen of New Zealand, this month's Council president.

The resolution, obtained by this reporter, terminates seven previous U.N. resolutions, imposing stringent sanctions, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that Iran has implemented a list of nuclear-related measures. These include, for example, Iran redesigning its Arak heavy-water reactor, reducing its installed centrifuges, and converting its enrichment plant at Fordow into a research centre.

The previous resolutions can be re-instated if Iran violates the terms of the agreement in the so-called "snap back" mechanism that can't be killed by a single veto. But unclear is how many nations with contracts with Iran would step back from a future purchase in case of a snap-back.

The resolution approves the deal that the six powers and the European Union worked out with Iran over 20 months of negotiations.

It is intended to significantly limit Tehran's ability to produce nuclear weapons for more than a decade. In return for lifting international sanctions, Iran must give up large parts of its nuclear program, including two-thirds of its uranium-enrichment centrifuges, and it must accept intrusive inspections. The bans can be extended but at the moment, the agreement ends in 2025. (for further details, also see Security Council Report).

Why nukes?

Iran insists its programs are for peaceful nuclear energy but few in the world believe that. While it does not have the bomb, experts say it has all the ingredients necessary for one, a threat in itself. A country with a bomb can use it to bully its neighbors, without ever using the weapon and joining an exclusive nuclear club. (The United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea). Boys like their toys.

Now what?

Many countries, including the United States, expect more from Iran to end its pariah status among nations. Will it continue its vile verbal assaults on Israel? Will it release any of the American prisoners it is holding? Will it increase funds to arm the Syrian regime, Hezbollah in Lebanon and elsewhere, Hamas in Gaza? Will it continue to question the Holocaust (or even touch on the embarrassing speech in New York in 2010 by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioning 9/11?). Or will the first order of business be to raise living standards of the population?

Tis a wait and see scenario with many more mutations expected to develop, including a Times Square rally on Wednesday against the deal. But at this point, Congress, Israel and other opponents are speaking to each other more than to the rest of the world.