Rhetoric and Trust: Iran and the West’s Nuclear Negotiations

Emily Stewart

Last week, the nuclear negotiations between the United States, among other world powers, and Iran, finally reached a deal. Nonetheless, that deal is temporary, and many find the terms of the agreement unsatisfactory—and probably rightfully so. Without any substantive indications that Iran’s nuclear capacity would truly be reduced, the nuclear agreement, which President Obama has made valiant efforts to promote in a positive light, serves as a painful reminder that negotiations with Iran are at a standstill. While the agreement does commit Iran to reduce its nuclear capacity, what the agreement fails to provide is any sort of assurance of follow-through on Iran’s part, for the deal is truly tentative and based on trust until the July 1st deadline. Trust, though, is a missing element in the not-so-friendly relationship between Iran and the United States. Seemingly, the principle of trust between countries on the international political stage is an element that can really only function if there is some sort of negative repercussion that is more unfavorable than backing out of a deal or if two countries are allies and have incentive to abide by the agreement. Iran against the West, though, is certainly not a relationship based on a friendly alliance, and due to the temporary, non-binding nature of the agreement—at least until a more conclusive deal is reached by the July 1st deadline—there is little incentive for Iran to actually comply with the terms of reduction. Indeed, an article in The Economist notes, “All these undertakings hinge on the assurance that Iran will abide by them.” But due to “Iran’s past history of lying and cheating over its nuclear programme,” as the article notes, it isn’t clear that the terms of the agreement are assured. As a result, the Iran nuclear negotiations currently remain mired in rhetoric, and until a more conclusive agreement is reached, the prospects of actual progress on the nuclear issue remain dismal.

While President Obama has highlighted the necessity of reaching a deal with Iran, many in Congress have voiced their dissatisfaction with the new nuclear deal. Nonetheless, it appears that both sides have equally valid arguments that would both support the necessity to reach a deal and also the need for more stringent terms of the agreement against a potentially dangerous Iran as a global security threat. The result is an immobile situation in which Iran seems to be driving the domestic political debates in the United States, reducing the agreement to rhetoric and exchanges of theoretical musings. Indeed, though President Obama highlights the $600 billion size of the United States’ defense budget in comparison with Iran’s significantly smaller $30 billion, his subsequent comment regarding his “Obama Doctrine” merely serves to highlight the rhetorical nature of the agreement. He said, “The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.” What those capabilities actually are, though, remains unclear. Such ambiguity has created distrust between Congress and the President. Still, President Obama’s reasoning that reaching some agreement was necessary in order to protect the United States’ national security also holds weight, for he notes, “if they [Iran] are implacably opposed to us, all the more reason for us to want to have a deal in which we know what they’re doing and that, for a long period of time, we can prevent them from having a nuclear weapon.” The gridlock between Congress and President Obama over the nuclear deal reflects the gridlock on the international level between the Western World and Iran. Until July 1, the nuclear negotiations don’t seem to promise anything but rhetoric and theoretical musings regarding the pros and cons of the current deal. Thus, the current nuclear deal is really just a place-filler for what is hopefully a more productive, enduring agreement that will be reached in two months.

[Image Credit: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/06/barack-obama-fights-back-against-israeli-critics-of-iran-nuclear-deal]