National Security

The Iran Deal: What Will Happen Post-Obama?

April 27, 2016  • Mary Catherine Bitter

Key Points

  • There's no doubt that the nuclear deal with Iran is controversial — but only time will tell if it is a step in the right direction or two steps back.

Above, watch panelists analyze the impact of the Iran Deal at the 2016 Aspen Security Forum: Global.

Last year, the international community successfully concluded preliminary negotiations with Iran, which largely concerned reducing the country’s nuclear program and lifting stifling economic sanctions. However, “successfully concluded” does not necessarily mean that all implicated parties were pleased with the result. In both the American and Iranian camps, there remain vehement points of contention, one of the largest being whether the Iran Deal represents the beginning of a transformative period for Iran, or if it is a façade as the country repairs its economy while preparing to pose an even greater security threat.

“This is a very early stage to answer this question,” said panelist Sara Bazoobandi, associate fellow of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program, at the 2016 Aspen Security Forum: Global. She believes that Iran is pursuing neither of these extremes, but rather, will end up somewhere in the middle.

“The establishment [in Iran] has seen itself somehow obliged, and its expediency somehow linked, to coming back to the negotiating table to resolve the issue [of the deal]…but it’s not a blanket strategy that they’re going to pursue in every aspect of their lives,” she said.

Peter Westmacott, former ambassador of the United Kingdom to the United States, agreed with her view, and pointed out that a number of milestones have been reached in the Iran Deal’s implementation since it was first negotiated.

“The Iranians, generally speaking, have done what they’re supposed to have done,” he said, but “there have been a few bumps in the road.”

Westmacott cited the Iranian testing of a ballistic missile, which occurred in March, as one of these bumps. According to Westmacott, however, that happened almost certainly without the will of political leaders in Iran.

“[The testing] is an indication of fragmentation within the country on whether Iran should be heading toward normalization of … relations with the United States and the rest of the world,” he said.

The deal was only able to occur thanks to a precarious balance of numerous factors, such as political change in Iran, political input from the United States, comprehensive international sanctions, a declining oil price, and personal relationships. As a result, the question of the deal’s stability is still on everyone’s minds. Iran is not the only one that could cause it to fall apart: it depends on continued collaboration between the governments that negotiated it, regardless of each country’s leader. With these factors in mind, Westmacott argued, it is evident that the upcoming US presidential election puts the deal’s continued existence at risk.

If Senator Cruz or Donald Trump wins the general election, Westmacott noted that the Iran Deal would face some difficulties that would not be a concern with a President Hillary Clinton, as both Republicans would like to, “tear up, renegotiate … the deal in a manner that some of us would regard as unrealistic.”

”I do think it’ll be important for [the other governments that negotiated the deal] to ensure that whoever wins the election understands that this is not just a bilateral US-Iranian deal,” he said. “This is a deal which the rest of us put our names to and helped negotiate … it cannot, and should not, be set aside.”