For Iran, 2013 Was a Very Good Year
Remember that interimIranian nuclear agreement forged in Geneva on Nov. 24, the one accompanied by blaring trumpets and soaring doves?
Would it surprise you to know that the agreement -- a deal that doesn't, by the way, neutralize the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, just freezes the program, more or less, in place -- has not yet been implemented? Would it surprise you to learn that this deal might not be implemented for another month, or more? Or that in this long period of non-implementation, Iran is free to do with its nuclear program whatever it wishes? And that one of the things it is doing is building and testing new generations of centrifuges? Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, recently said, "We have two types of second-generation centrifuges. We also have future generations which are going through their tests."
Happy New Year, everyone.
I've been willing to believe that the interim agreement represents an improvement over the status quo, but in order to improve the situation, the agreement has to be implemented. How astonishing is it that the Obama administration, and its European allies, have let more than a month slip by without actually getting this deal done? I recognize that Secretary of State John Kerry is preoccupied with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but perhaps he could spare a moment and demand that negotiators work around-the-clock to seal this deal.
Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, said recently that he "guesses" that negotiators will finish hammering out the details of this agreement by the end of January. Negotiations were suspended, of course, for Christmas. And a couple of weeks ago, Iran temporarily boycotted talks after the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it would be enforcing existing sanctions on several Iranian companies. Let me stress this last point: Existing sanctions. Not a good omen. Except, of course, for the Iranian regime, which, it must be said, has had a pretty good year overall.
The smartest decision Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made this year was to allow the smiling cleric (and former nuclear negotiator) Hassan Rouhani to win the election for the country's presidency. Rouhani might very well turn out to be more moderate than Khamenei -- superficially, of course, he is far more palatable than the man he replaced, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - but so far, there are no signs that Rouhani's putative moderation has led to meaningful shifts in the policies of the Islamic Republic. Iran continues to be the most potent state sponsor of terrorism in the world; it is still the prime backer of Hezbollah in Lebanon and of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria; and it hasn't shown any inclination to actually roll back its nuclear program.
Though the interim agreement is still not in effect, Iran is benefiting from the perception that it is. Already, Rouhani has told his parliament that, following the "success" of the talks, new money was flowing to the Iranian stock exchange. "Economic activities have been shifted to the stock exchange from gold, hard currency and real estate," he said.
And ever since the so-far unimplemented interim deal was struck, Western companies have been sniffing around Tehran, looking for footholds in what they have been led to believe is a soon-to-open market. Merck is trying to partnerwith an Iranian drug company, and firms from France and Italy have entered talks with Iranian automakers and mining concerns. If Rouhani succeeds in improving Iran's economic prospects even before the interim agreement goes into effect, his government will find itself under much less pressure to negotiate a final nuclear deal.
The Syrian regime, an indispensably important ally of Tehran's, was not supposed to make it to 2014. The U.S. and its allies were confident in predicting Assad's downfall. They were so confident, in fact, that they didn't do anything to speed up this downfall. Iran, on the other hand, committed itself fully to the defense of the government, and deployed both its own people and its proxy militia, Hezbollah, to prop up Assad. To do so, Iran has participated in the slaughter of thousands of Syrians and Palestinians. Today, Assad's enemies are on the run, and the U.S. has taken itself out of the regime-change business: The Russian-engineered, and Obama-approved, deal to remove Assad's chemical weapons has given tacit approval to Assad to continue slaughtering his way to success, though "only" with conventional weapons.
In Iraq, Iran's ally, President Nouri al-Maliki, is now the recipient of American missiles that his Shiite-dominated forces will use to kill Iran's radical Sunni enemies. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah, a subsidiary of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, remains the country's most consequential, and violent, power broker. Recently, Lebanon's former finance minister, Mohamad Chatah, wrote anopen letter to Rouhani, complaining of continued Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of his country.
"The real test is not so much whether Iran reaches a final agreement with Western powers on its nuclear program, nor whether domestic economic and social reforms are successfully put in place -- important as these objectives are to the world and to the Iranian people," Chatah wrote. "For us in Lebanon, the real test is whether Iran is genuinely prepared to chart a new course in its policies toward the rest of region, and most specifically toward Lebanon."
Chatah was assassinated last week in a car bomb attack. Iran's proxies are the prime suspects. The chance that anyone associated with the Iranian regime will pay for this murder is almost nonexistent.
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Jeffrey Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org