- Flynt Leverett
author of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran and professor of international affairs at Penn State. He served for over a decade in the U.S. government as a senior analyst at the CIA, a Middle East specialist for the State Department and as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.
Iran has reached a nuclear deal with the United States and five major world powers, capping more than a decade of negotiations. Under the deal, sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on its nuclear program. The deal allows Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear program, but aims to prevent Tehran from ever developing nuclear weapons. Earlier this morning in a national address that was also broadcast on Iranian television, President Obama said every pathway for Iran to a nuclear weapon has been cut off. Obama vowed to veto any congressional legislation to block the deal. Under the nuclear deal, sanctions on Iran could be reinstated in 65 days if the deal is violated. A U.N. weapons embargo is to remain in place for five years, and a ban on buying missile technology will remain for eight years. We go now to Vienna, where we are joined by Flynt Leverett, author of "Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran" and professor of international affairs at Penn State. He served for over a decade in the U.S. government as a senior analyst at the CIA, a Middle East specialist for the State Department and as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.
AMY GOODMAN: Iran has reached a nuclear deal with the United States and five major world powers, capping more than a decade of negotiations. Under the deal, sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on its nuclear program. The deal allows Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear program, but aims to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons. Earlier this morning in a national address that was also broadcast on Iranian television, President Obama said every pathway for Iran to a nuclear weapon has been cut off.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. ... This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off. And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place.
Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb. Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb, and store them under constant international supervision. Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium. To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon.
AMY GOODMAN: During his speech, President Obama vowed to veto any congressional legislation to block the deal. The Iran nuclear agreement came after Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Secretary Javad Zarif spent more than two weeks in negotiations. Speaking in Vienna, Zarif described the day as an "historic moment."
JAVAD ZARIF: Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to everybody, to those who started this process and those who have continued this process in order to reach a win-win solution on what, in our view, was an unnecessary crisis, and open new horizons for dealing with serious problems that affect our international community. I believe this is a historic moment. We are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody, but it is what we could accomplish, and it is an important achievement for all of us. Today could have been the end of hope on this issue, but now we are starting a new chapter of hope.
AMY GOODMAN: Under the deal, sanctions on Iran could be reinstated in 65 days if the deal is violated. A U.N. weapons embargo is to remain in place for five years, and a ban on buying missile technology will remain for eight years. Despite these measures, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a "bad mistake of historic proportions."
We go now to Vienna, where we’re joined again by Flynt Leverett, author of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran. He’s a professor of international affairs at Penn State; served for over a decade in the U.S. government as a senior analyst at the CIA, a Middle East specialist for the State Department and as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.
Well, Flynt, we spoke yesterday. Today, the deal has been reached. Can you tell us the outlines of it and your reaction to it?
FLYNT LEVERETT: I think the outlines, I would emphasize three main sets of commitments. On the Iranian side, of course, there are a number of commitments spelled out relatively early on in the agreement—all totaled, 159 pages with the annexes. But there is a set of commitments that Iran undertakes regarding certain limits on its nuclear activities that will address nonproliferation concerns that the United States and some other countries have had. As an analyst, I have personally never been persuaded that Iran was seeking to build a nuclear weapon, but for those who are concerned about that possibility or that risk, I think this is a very good deal from a nonproliferation standpoint.
At the same time, in terms of nuclear commitments, I think Iran has achieved something very significant here, which is basically a recognition of the reality that states have a right to a peaceful use of civil nuclear technology in all respects. This is not a right that is granted by the Non-Proliferation Treaty; it is a sovereign right that’s recognized by the treaty. From an Iranian perspective, the United States and the Security Council tried for years to deny Iran that right. And now, without Iran having sacrificed it, the international community is recognizing that right, and I think that’s an important step on the nonproliferation front, as well.
The second big set of commitments concerns sanctions relief. In return for Iran accepting these limits on its nuclear capabilities, all international sanctions authorized by the United Nations Security Council are going to be removed. European Union sanctions against Iran will be terminated. And the United States will, the language says, cease implementing its secondary sanctions, the sanctions that it threatens to impose on third countries that do business with Iran. The United States will stop implementing those sanctions, although they are likely to stay authorized in American law for some period of years. The president, President Obama, basically will waive the implementation of those sanctions. So I think that’s another second set of commitments.
And then there’s a third set of commitments related to implementing this deal. And basically, the agreement sets up processes, committees, commissions that will oversee the implementation of this deal. There’s a special committee set up to deal with the issue of inspections, with the International Atomic Energy Agency asked to visit a nonnuclear site that it doesn’t regularly inspect, and Iran is uncomfortable about that happening. There is now a committee process laid out which will, you know, review why does the IAEA want to come to this site, what is the basis for their concern, what are Iran’s concerns about letting the agency in, and, you know, will weigh those and ultimately adjudicate or arbitrate those kinds of situations, if they arrive.
AMY GOODMAN: Flynt—Flynt Leverett, I just want to—
FLYNT LEVERETT: And that’s actually the first time that this has been done.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about what’s going to happen in Congress right now, a battle royale. Now, President Obama has already, in his national address, said he will veto any rejection of this. And then it will go, of course, back to Congress to try to overturn his veto. But for those who say this is a terrorist nation, that it doesn’t stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb but simply delays it 10 or 15 years down the road, your response?
FLYNT LEVERETT: You know, I think, for people who say that, you know, I think they really—the burden of proof should be on them to prove that it is actually Iran’s intent to build nuclear weapons and that the kinds of—you know, even after this deal runs out, Iran is still going to be bound by the obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to build nuclear weapons. I went to work for the U.S. government in 1992 and have been hearing ever since, from Israeli intelligence agencies, from U.S. intelligence agencies, that Iran is three to five years away from being able to build a nuclear weapon. And every year we just push that—we just push that three- to five-year estimate further, further out. You know, I think at this point we really need to ask ourselves, is Iran—does Iran really have the intention to build a nuclear weapon? And I don’t think there is any evidence that they do.
AMY GOODMAN: And to those who say now, with the sanctions lifted, it will simply be able to give more support, for example, to Bashar al-Assad of Syria, talk about an issue you ended with yesterday in our conversation, which was your feeling that President Obama is selling this in the wrong way, that it should be talked overall about a shifting of U.S. policy in the Middle East. But begin with that issue of those who say this is a terrorist nation supporting terrorists, and now they’ll have more money to do that.
FLYNT LEVERETT: My wife and I have been arguing for years, both inside the U.S. government when we served there and in the years since we left government, that the United States, for its own interests, needs to come to terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Relying overly much on partnerships with Israel and Saudi Arabia is increasingly dysfunctional for the U.S. position in the region. It is breeding jihadi terrorism across the region. It is enabling open-ended Israeli occupation of Arab populations. All of that is ultimately bad for the United States. The only way the United States can recover from the many tragic mistakes it has made in this part of the world in recent years, and put itself on a more positive trajectory, is by coming to terms with Iran. Iran is a rising regional power. It is a legitimate political order for most Iranians who live inside their country. We need to come to terms with that reality.
AMY GOODMAN: There was a discussion in the media today, those who are saying Iran is involved with something like four wars, you know, against the United States. But, in fact, that is not exactly true, is it, Flynt Leverett? I mean, look at Iraq. The U.S. is not looking at—
FLYNT LEVERETT: Yeah, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. is working on the side of Iran.
FLYNT LEVERETT: And you look at—that’s right. If you look at the constituencies that Iran supports in these various arenas, we may want to label them terrorists, but the reality is, these are unavoidable constituencies in their societies with real and legitimate grievances. And what Iran does more than anything else is to help these communities organize in various ways to press their grievances more effectively. That’s why Iran’s influence is rising.
If we want to be serious about conflict resolution in Syria, not about funding, working with the Saudis to fund jihadi militants that end up coalescing into either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, if we want to get serious about conflict resolution in Syria, we need to be talking with and working in a serious way with Iran. If we want to get serious about conflict resolution in Iraq and dealing with the Islamic State in a serious and effective way, we need to stop just letting the Saudis and helping the Saudis fund the jihadi militants that create these groups, and we need to work with Iran to devise a regional strategy to contain that threat.
It is an extremely unpopular thing to say in the United States. My wife and I have paid various kinds of personal and professional prices for making this argument over the years. But the reality is, if the United States is going to have a more effective foreign policy in the Middle East—and, frankly, a more humane and constructive foreign policy in the Middle East—rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran is essential to that end.
AMY GOODMAN: Flynt Leverett, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of international affairs at Penn State, formerly worked with the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the National Security Council, co-author, with his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett, of a book dealing with Going to Tehran.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at another deal, this one in Athens, Greece. Stay with us.