‘Iran could constrain reckless impulses of US Mideast allies’

European Union Political Director Helga Schmid (L), European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wait with others for a meeting with officials from P5+1, the European Union and Iran at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne March 31, 2015 (Reuters / Brendan Smialowski)
A deal with Iran over its nuclear program would benefit the US as it needs to change its policy in the Middle East, and even build a constructive relationship with critical regional powers, said Hillary Mann Leverett, a former US negotiator with Iran.

RT:Hopes are high that the six world powers and Iran who have been holding talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne will reach a deal by Wednesday evening. What kind of document do you expect to come out of these talks?

Hillary Mann Leverett: I would assume at this point we can still really think of only a vague document coming out of these talks. There does not seem to be agreement on many of the details, much of the substance that would be detailed in the final agreement.

But that is not really the purpose of what they were trying to get by [Wednesday evening]. This was supposed to be a political understanding of what the agreement would entail, and a final agreement then would be drafted by June 30. So my sense is that if we get an agreement it will be focused more on a reaffirmation in a sense of a core bargain that they struck back in November 2013: that the parties would proceed toward resolving this conflict by Iran agreeing in negotiated contacts to constraints on its nuclear program in exchange for comprehensive lifting of sanctions.

READ MORE: Nuclear deal with Iran ‘reached on all key aspects’ – Lavrov

And that is where I think the parties have really got stuck, because the comprehensive lifting of sanctions is something that is not technical. It doesn’t involve nuclear physicists at the table, it requires real political will. And I think that’s where we’ve seen the brinkmanship.

RT:If a deal is agreed on, what kind of reaction is it likely to trigger on Capitol Hill?

HL: I think the reaction will be negative, regardless of what the deal is. Some people in Washington, I think, disingenuously claim that it depends on whether it is a ‘good deal’ or ‘bad deal’. But there is no ‘good deal’ for many of the lawmakers in Washington, the 47 senators who sent this letter to Iran, there’s no good deal for them with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their agenda is regime change. They would be happy for an Iran under a kind of Shah, an American puppet, to have nuclear weapons. But they are not really interested in an independent state to have any nuclear weapons. So I think they would oppose any deal.

I think because of that reality, the focus of the talks in this session has been not so much, not I really think at all, on the US sanctions, but how to really put that in its own box and deal with something more internationally. The focus has been on the UN sanctions, which Congress has no say over. The United States could agree to lift UN sanctions in five minutes. I saw it done on Libya; I saw it done on Sudan. The United States can do it in five minutes; they don’t need to consult with anybody in Congress. And that is what I’m talking about in terms of political will.

It’s up to President Obama whether he will agree and literally pick up the phone and call the UN ambassador and say: “Either vote for the lifting of sanctions or abstain.” It’s all he needs to do. That’s a question of political will; the rest of it is really just political posturing.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) and Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talk while other members of their delegation listen after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. officials at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne March 27, 2015 (Reuters / Brendan Smialowski)

RT:The Republicans have warned that any deal with Iran might not survive after Barack Obama is out of the White House. Should we expect the US to make a U-turn on Iran in subsequent years?

HL: We’ve actually seen a bad scenario of this happening in the past. In the late 1970s under President Carter, his administration had negotiated the SALT II treaty with Moscow, with the Soviet Union. And the way he sold it was as if was a “technical agreement,” that we were “imposing meaningful curbs” on the Soviet Union’s strategic capacity. The Congress defeated it. It was a devastating failure for President Carter.

We could potentially be looking at something like that if President Obama plays the same game by saying that he’s essentially going to hold his nose while he is negotiating with Iran and just try to focus on a narrow technical agreement. He needs to make the case, the strategic case why a fundamental realignment of US policies in the Middle East toward the Islamic Republic of Iran is imperative for the United States, that after a decade of disastrous military interventions in the Middle East, the United States needs a different way. It needs a constructive way forward with Iran. But he has not done that. Instead, my concern is that he is following President Carter’s route. Essentially Carter’s view was that the Soviet Union was an unreconstructed adversary, evil empire in a sense, and he was just going to hold his nose and try to get the SALT II treaty passed. Well, he lost the election in 1980, we got Ronald Reagan, and that was the end of that.

RT:If a deal is reached, how is it likely to change regional dynamics for America's main allies in the region Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both strongly oppose a deal?

HL: I think it will be very good for the United States. After the end of the Cold War, the United States has gone through a period I think some would call of arrogance, essentially trying to impose its dominance on various regions of the world, including the Middle East. And those who want to go along with it, we characterize them as allies, when they are not really allies per se, they are just going along with the United States. What we really need is constructive relationships with each of the critical powers in the region so that they can restraint even the reckless impulses of our so-called allies. It’s not in our interests when Israel bombs Lebanon, Israel bombs Gaza. It’s not in our interest when Saudis invade Yemen. If you have a better relationship with Iran, it will constrain these reckless impulses of even our allies, and allow the United States to get off this dangerous trajectory of trying to impose its own military dominance on the region.

READ MORE: Iran: Sanctions must be dropped for nuclear deal

“We will hear a lot of condemnation on Capitol Hill”

Former US diplomat Jim Jatras suggests there would be a lot of condemnation in the US Congress over the nuclear agreement with Iran despite its content and framework.

“It is safe to say that there are a lot of Republicans and frankly a lot of Democrats who will not be happy with any agreement the Iranians will be willing to sign. I think we will hear a lot of condemnation about this agreement, whatever it says, whatever the framework is, regardless of what the details are to be arrived at later.”

Jim Jatras also expects to see a kind of power struggle between Congress and President Obama about the President’s authority to implement this agreement “which under the American law will not be a treaty and will not be passed by Congress.”

A possible U-turn on Iran’s nuclear program in subsequent years will be largely dependent on who gets elected in 2016, but the chances that it could happen are not completely small, Jatras suggests.

“Let’s take the obvious question of the lifting of sanctions. There are statutes in place that authorize President Obama to extend sanctions but it also allows him to wave those sanctions. He can to a large extent unilaterally lift the sanctions on Iran if that’s a part of what is agreed to in this agreement. The next president could very well put those sanctions back on if he disagrees with what Mr. Obama agreed to.”

According to the former diplomat some of the US’s key allies would like to see military action against Iran regardless of whether it has a nuclear capability or not.

“It’s a part of a larger struggle in which Saudi Arabia is so to speak the leader of the Sunni camp, and Iran the leader of the Shia camp. And they would like to see Iran essentially destroyed as a major power in the region. This nuclear deal does not accomplish that obviously and I think it’s unacceptable largely for that reason.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.