As the high-ranking economic and political delegations from the European and Asian countries flock to Tehran one after the other to negotiate the resumption of their trade ties with Iran following the landmark conclusion of the nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers earlier on July 14, the United States is the only nation that hasn’t yet taken a final decision on the adoption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and implementing it.
The UN Security Council issued the resolution 2231 on July 20, endorsing the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, indicating that after a period of 10 years, Iran’s nuclear program would be treated as a normal and regular case within the safeguards framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and taken off the Security Council’s agenda as an urgent concern for the world peace and security. Upon the receipt of a positive report from the IAEA that Iran has complied with its commitments, such as reducing the number of its spinning centrifuges, reconstructing the Arak heavy-water reactor and diluting its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, etc., the Security Council will terminate the sanctions placed on Iran through six resolutions passed between 2006 and 2015.
Now, the U.S. Congress is hotly debating the nuclear agreement, and while almost all the Republican House representatives and Senators have decried it as a bad deal that needs to be blocked, it seems like the Democratic Senators have secured enough votes to prevent the opposition from stopping the implementation of the JCPOA. Even the U.S. President Barack Obama has said that he would definitely use his veto power if needed in order to make sure that the nuclear deal with Iran would safely pass through the Congress floor and come into force.
A former U.S. politician tells Iran Review that he is convinced the two houses of the Congress will eventually vote in approval of the Iran deal and even the next U.S. President will honor the agreement, whether a Republican is heading to the Oval Office or a Democrat.
The former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb believes if Iran abides by its part of the agreement, the U.S. government won’t violate it, and after a period of 5 years, everybody will totally forget what the commotion has been all about.
Commenting on the implicit war threats made by the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter against Iran following the conclusion of the nuclear talks, Lawrence Korb noted that he was mostly trying to appeal to a domestic audience and convincing those people who claimed that President Obama emerged weak by signing the agreement with Iran.
Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He was formerly a director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He got his Ph.D. at the State University of New York Albany. From 1981 to 1985, he was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics under Secretary Caspar Weinberger in President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
Prof. Korb shared his viewpoints with Iran Review in an exclusive interview conducted a couple of weeks ago, discussing the comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, the future of Iran-U.S. relations and the regional crises affecting the Middle East.
Q: Along with the campaign for the next year’s presidential elections, the most heated debate in the U.S. these days revolves around the endorsement of the nuclear deal by the Congress and whether or not the Congress will allow the JCPOA to be implemented. And there’s a great deal of pressure on the Congress by the corporate groups and lobbies to kill this agreement. Do you think that the Congress will eventually yield to the pressures and block the deal? And in that case, will President Obama be able to sustain his veto?
A: I think Obama will sustain his veto. In fact, they’ve set up a process that he leads the way the Congress is handling this. They have a 60-day limit because, if you know anything about our Congress and Senate, people can filibuster and stretch things out. The other is that the president can veto whatever they do and then both houses need to override the veto, which is through getting two third. That’s unusual I think with a treaty – because it would need a two third majority of the two houses to override President’s veto. And given the fact that you have a lot of people in the Congress, particularly Republicans who don’t want to see President Obama succeed in anything, as what happened with Cuba for example, they basically would have made it impossible. So, it’s set up in a way that everybody can win; the president is going to get the deal; members of Congress will approve or vote against it – but the real thing is that the deal will go forward.
Q: Alright; so, what’s your assessment of the climate of the two Houses of the Congress these days? Do you think that the Senate and the House and the majority of the Congressmen in both houses are reluctant to give a green light to the deal or do the majority of the Congressmen have a willingness to finally endorse the deal and let it be implemented? What’s your assessment of how the Congressmen would react to the deal? Of course a number of them are still indecisive; they do not know whether to vote in favor of the deal or to reject it. What will come out at the end?
A: I think what will come out is that the Congress will have to vote by September 17; they had sixty days and the deal was on July 17 [sic]. I think they will turn it down. I don’t think you’re going to get a majority it needs to have because we should remember that the Congress in both Houses is controlled by the opposition parties and they don’t want to give Obama or the Democrats any victory particularly as we get close to an election. But then what will happen, as I mentioned before, is that the president will veto it and the Congress will not be able to get two third in both Houses to override the veto. So, the deal will go through.
Q: There is some uncertainty regarding what the next U.S. president will be doing to the nuclear agreement. Well, some of Republican hopefuls in the presidential race have indicated that they will not continue honoring the terms of the JCPOA if elected as president. This is while Ms. Hillary Clinton, for instance, has stated that she would surely implement and honor this agreement if elected. Do you think that the next president, if he is going to be a Republican, will refuse to implement or continue putting into force the terms of the deal that has been negotiated and concluded after almost two years of intensive talks between Iran and the United States and its partners?
A: Well, if a Democrat wins, there will be no question. And I think even a Republican will not fail to implement the deal, because basically we had this before.We had other executive agreements with adversaries; for example the Helsinki Accord that President Ford implemented and recognized Soviet Russian control over Eastern Europe in return for allowing more openness in those countries. Lots of people were unhappy about it; the Congress didn’t need a vote on the agreement and basically all of Ford’s predecessors such as President Carter, President Reagan and President Bush Sr. all implemented it. So, I think it’s one thing in the campaign but when you get in the office, you recognize that you have all of these obligations and it will create chaos because if a Republican were to get in and want to not implement it, the sanctions would have already been dropped by the UN, by the United States and all the other P5+1 countries. So, no, I don’t think so. I think there is a lot of talk in the campaigns but whoever gets elected, the deal is going to go through.
Q: Perfect. What’s being discussed these days in the U.S. public sphere is the importance of the “snap-back” mechanism for the immediate re-imposition of sanctions against Iran in case that it “cheats” and violates the nuclear deal; however, there’s no talk about a possible U.S. violation of the deal, including an unprompted reinstatement of the sanctions which it has committed will be terminated or pressuring the European companies to stop their trade with Iran. So, is the U.S. government completely confident that it won’t violate the deal at any rate and abide by all of its commitments?
A: Well, if Iran carries out its obligations under the agreement, no “snap-back” will go in. The “snap-back” provision is if Iran should violate the agreement by building another secret facility for enriching uranium or developing more centrifuges, then this is very important that the United States would be able to reinstate sanctions according to the agreement which says that nobody can deal with it in the United Nations and I think that’s important because that gives people the assurance that if Iran, should for whatever reason decided to violate it, it wouldn’t have Russia or China’s veto against bringing the UN sanctions back. So, if Iran doesn’t violate the treaty, there is going to be no snap-back and I think it’s important to keep in mind that, the Soviet Union, even at the height of the Cold War always kept the treaties with determination. One exception seems to be North Korea, but Iran is not North Korea.
Q: So, what if the U.S. government at one point violates its commitments and, for example, tries to put pressure on the Asian and European companies and firms that are returning to Iran’s market, imposes the sanctions including secondary sanctions and effectually puts back those sanctions that are terminated by the virtue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the recent UN Security Council resolution 2231? Do you think that there is no chance or there is no possibility that the U.S. will at point or for one reason violate its commitments?
A: Well, the U.S. won’t violate its commitments, if Iran keeps its obligations, which you know better than I – but I happen to think that they will, basically no! There would be no violation by the U.S. In fact, if you take a look at it, after the sanctions are dropped and Iran lives up within its commitments, you’re going to see a great economic development not just in Iran but throughout the rest of the world. I mean, when you look at Iran’s oil and natural gas, it’s is the largest in the world. It’ll be good for American consumers to have access to more oil and gas on the market. So, no! I think they’re not going to want to put them back. And I don’t know if you heard President Obama when he gave his speech at the American University to defend the deal where he pointed out that our leverage for example, with the Chinese for whatever reason, given how much dollars they have, it’s not that great. So, no; I don’t think so. If Iran implements the treaty in five years now, nobody is going to be even thinking about it because it’s an interesting thing in our system. And I’ve seen this when I was in the government and then in the military. People can vote against something and if it turns out to be bad, they can say “see, I told you!” but if it turns out well, nobody will care how it evolved. So a lot of people evolve because they can’t lose politically if they do.
Q: Many of the experts and fellows at the center where you are based, i.e. the Center for American Progress, consider Iran to be a dangerous role-player in the Middle East that threatens the U.S. interests across the world. With such skepticism against Iran, is it really possible to foresee a possible rapprochement between Iran and the United States in the future, as overcoming this mistrust is a pre-requisite for the improvement of the ties? Are Tehran and Washington fated to remain enemies forever or are they going to overcome these cynicism and finally cooperate with each other?
A: Well, I happen to think that they will. A couple of things: look at China and the problems we had. When I was a young man and I was in Vietnam, the Chinese were furnishing equipment to the fighters in the north to shoot at us. So, everything was like that, and we had a real war with the Chinese. But we’re going to get along with them fine now; obviously we have some tensions basically because, you know, they’re trying to get their proper role in the world. And I know, and you probably know better than me that we worked with Iran after the attacks of 9/11. Iran helped the United Sates, gave us information about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, it gave us intelligence; and at the Bonn Conference in December 2001, my understanding from people who were there like Brahimi is that the Iranians persuaded the Northern Alliance to support Karzai, who is a Pashtu, and so I think we can get along. I think that nobody is going to win in Syria. So we’re going to have to do something there. We both do not want to see ISIS expand its influence particularly in Iraq. So, I do think that there are ways that we can cooperate. I have to tell you something from my own experience. From a dinner I went to; I was working in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations and shortly after 9/11, then Ambassador Zarif invited several of us in the Council over to have dinner with us. He told us that they would be willing to help us in Afghanistan, and after all, Iran had a candle-light vigil after the attacks of 9/11.
Q: Great. So, you believe that it’s eventually possible that Iran and the United States can put aside the hostilities of the past four decades and rebuild their relations. So, how is it possible to move to that point, to make some confidence and overcome the acrimonies accumulated throughout these tumultuous years?
A: I think basically if Iran lives up to the deal and stop supporting groups like Hezbollah, it will happen. You don’t remember but I happen to when I was in government, Hezbollah killed 240 marines in 1983 and again that’s something we have to deal with. So, I think a lot will depend upon whether Iran is willing to work and I think Syria is going to be a big challenge. If they stop supporting Assad and we could come to some sort of agreement there, I believe we can normalize relationships as we did this with China and we did with Russia, though there are tensions again, but we worked together with the Russians during the talks with Iran. We concluded the nuclear agreement with them. So, I do think there is a chance that will be good for both countries. I think if the sanctions are relaxed, people in Iran will begin to develop and have economic opportunities. Then they’re going to want to focus on rebuilding a great country rather than causing problems around the region.
Q: And of course you have the successful experience of the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which has just taken place recently and you have opened your embassies in the respective countries.
A: Right! And I think this is important. It’s not possible that we always agree on everything.The big questions I think are really keys in terms of dealing with ISIS in that part of the world which is destabilizing the whole region. We have the big question of groups branded as terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. If we can come to some sort of accommodation where Iran does not aid these groups, then we can come up with some sort of agreement that we can both support. I think that’s really the key, basically, because the United States and President Obama have said that we don’t want any war in Middle East; that’s not what we’re looking for.
Q: Right! I have a question again on the nuclear agreement and its terms. You wrote in Politico Magazine that no official who cares of the sovereignty of their nation, whether in Iran or anywhere in the world, would permit “anytime, anywhere” access to their nuclear, military and security facilities and making such excessive demands will simply result in a new “debacle” in the Middle East; however, there are still some Congressmen and lobbyists and of course leaders in Israel and Saudi Arabia who believe that such permissions should be granted. Do you find these demands reasonable and practical, and do you think that they really serve the goal of nuclear non-proliferation to provide anytime, anywhere access to any military site that is considered as a country’s secrets and part of its sovereignty?
A: Unfortunately, somebody from the White House, I think, it is one of the national security people, did utter that phrase and the Secretary of Energy used it as part of another phrase that’s taken out of context. So, that’s why I think people are coming back to that. That should not have been said before we had the agreement but it’s not just me. I don’t know if you saw the letter from the 29 scientists?!
Q: Yeah , I saw it.
A: And, you know, one of the people on the list used to work with me for some time. He developed the hydrogen bomb; so, he certainly knows what he is talking about with inspections. I think these statements probably shouldn’t have been made but basically you want to take a look as I would like the President who said that we still have a very, very intrusive inspection system. I like that. And I think a lot of people would like anywhere, anytime [inspections for] sure, but that’s impractical; no nation would have agreed to do that. I was quite surprised when I heard that that seems to be on the table!
Q: And also you hear statements being made by senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who said a few days after the conclusion of the nuclear talks that the deal does not take the option of military strike against off the table. Do you think that such statements can be helpful and conducive to peace, especially now that the two sides have come to a comprehensive agreement and diplomacy has prevailed over the specter of a new war campaign in the region?
A: I think what Ashton Carter is saying is what happens with any nation. In the other case, you know that military is the last resort, but I think if you listened to what President Obama was saying – he said if you don’t have this agreement, you really could have a war, and nobody wants that. And I think it’s important to keep in mind this important thing, that a lot of times when people make statements like that, they’re talking to their audience at home because there is a perception, I think – it’s wrong among some people, that when Obama agreed to the deal, he doesn’t want to use military force! So, I think the Secretary of Defense came to say “no, no! We would if we have to” and that sent the signal which you want. It’s like statements I hear from Iranian politician when they’re talking to their audiences at home. And I think you need to understand that that’s all part of political dynamics. I mean, when I worked with President Reagan, he called the Soviet Union the evil empire; then he negotiated with them! So, I think you need to understand they’retrying to show people that, look! Obama is not weak and if this deal should collapse, and then the Iranians for whatever reason should decide not to do it, we would obviously be able and willing to use military force if it makes sense.
Q: Yeah, but you know that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said, Iran will not tear apart the agreement that it has been working on for more than two years. He made it clear that Iran will not violate the terms of an accord on which it has spent hundreds of hours of intense negotiations and a great deal of political capital. So, it’s still conceivable that Iran is ready to implement its part of the deal faithfully, and the onus is on the shoulders of the international community to mutually respond to Iran’s goodwill gesture by lifting the sanction and enabling the resumption of normal trade.
A: Well, sure! I should say again that I have every confidence that Iran will implement the deal and two years from now people will be wondering what was all the commotion about, because Iran will be implementing the deal, the sanctions will be lifted, the lives of people in Iran will be better, the Middle East will be more stable. But again why is there is a lot of mistrust? Because of problems we had! I mean, many people in our country still haven’t gotten over the American hostages within the embassy; and people keep dragging that up. And so that’s unfortunate. Many people in this country don’t realize we worked with the British to put the Shah back in power. So, in my view the deal will be approved, we’ll start seeing Iran take the steps that it is supposed to. And as President Obama mentioned, for the last 21 months, they kept this deal that a lot of people didn’t think they would.
Q: Yeah, exactly! So, on another issue of mutual concern for Iran and the U.S., the volatile Middle East is grappling with tensions resulting from the atrocities of terrorist groups such as ISIS, the civil war in Syria, the Saudi intervention in Yemen, the crisis in Bahrain, the political instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. What would be the best solutions for handling these problems and bringing peace and security back to the region? Do you think that the idea of Iran-U.S. cooperation would be a pragmatic way out of the crises that we are now dealing with?
A: I think so. I think we can begin with Syria. If Iran, which has influence over Assad as do the Russians, comes to some sort of negotiated solution – because nobody can win there. I think that’s important because when you have ISIS, you’ve got Al-Nusra, you’ve got two branches of the Kurds, you’ve got Assad, and so there’s no winner and you have to come up with some sort of negotiated solution to that situation. I think if we do that, then I think we can move on to deal with these other problems. You know better than I that how much support has been given to the Houthis, but if we could come to let the government go back there and develop an inclusive society, I think that certainly would help. But I think what happens, at least as I see, you have a lot of countries, particularly Sunni countries who think Iran, which is Shiite, wants to dominate the whole region. I don’t think that’s true but there is that perception and so that’s the way a lot of those countries react.
A: I just want to include a concluding question. I’m a proponent of Iran- U.S. detente. I have conducted several interviews with American politicians and diplomats who are willing to work for this end and the realization of along-term reconciliation between our two countries. Personally, what do you think should be done in order for these hostilities of the past four decades to be settled? When we talk to Iranian people, they say that the USS Vincennes cruiser shot down an Iranian passenger aircraft over the Persian Gulf on July 3, 1988 and killed 290 people aboard, played a central role in 1953 coup against the democratic government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, etc. And when we talk to the Americans, they say that you took our diplomats hostage for 444 days. We talk to the both sides and there are grievances. What should be done in order for the two countries to consign these dark memories to oblivion and move toward a new beginning, so that the whole international community could benefit from this partnership?
A: Well, I think there are models for that. We can look at the relation with Vietnam; 59,000 Americans died in that war, as did several million Vietnamese. We have normalized the relations. As I mentioned with China, we fought the Chinese in the Korean War and they provided aid to Vietnam in the war against us. I think if this agreement is kept by both sides, then I think we will be able to start moving in the direction that we did with previous people that we had disagreements with. And I think it’s important for the leaders on both sides to tell their people that each of us have legitimate complaints, and you pointed them out. I mean, Americans – I worry sometimes because we don’t see they know much history. And if you tell them about what we did with Mosaddegh or shooting down that plane accidently– they mistook it for a combatant – people are not aware of that. They do remember the marines in Beirut and the seizure of the hostages, but it requires the leaders to say, ok, we both make mistakes and we got to move on. And as I said, we have Americans that now go back to Vietnam – they had fought in that war. You know, my son was in the Foreign Service when he went on vacation in Vietnam – that’s all where I was in when I was young!
A: And so, I think someday I’d like to come to visit Iran and just have normal relations. I can remember going to China when I was working for President Reagan in 1984 to help them modernize their military logistic system. This is a country that aided Vietnam and we fought them in Korea. So, yes! I think it’s possible and I do think if we could come to some sort of accommodation, the world will be so much better because the Middle East is in such turmoil now and it’s not just Iran that’s causing it. What’s going to happen to Iraq? You don’t have one country, but three countries there. What’s going to happen in Syria? What’s goingto happen to the Arab Spring? So, we if could get together, I think we can begin to deal with a lot of those problems.