The Conversation

Is Iran Trying to Sabotage the Nuclear Deal?

Iran's extreme gestures since the Geneva nuclear deal was finalized Sunday--calling the deal a "surrender" by world powers, and visiting the grave of the terrorist behind hundreds of American deaths in Beirut--seem calculated to inflame U.S. public opinion and humiliate President Barack Obama (or both). There seem three possible explanations: one, sheer triumphalism; two, an attempt to appease Iranian hard-liners who oppose any negotiation; three, an effort to provoke Congress to back new sanctions so Iran has a pretext to back out.

The last explanation certainly seems possible. There are 59 co-sponsors of the bipartisan Senate bill for new sanctions, and as many as 77 "yes" votes, a veto-proof majority. President Obama has urged Congress not to pass any new measures---even ones that, like the bill in question, only become active if the interim deal fails. However, Iran's rhetoric will create new pressure on Congress to do something in response. Iran could then complain that the U.S. had failed to keep its word on sanctions relief--as it did last last year--and walk out.

Iran does not actually need the agreement, except as a way to relieve some of the economic pressure, which it succeeded in doing merely through the announcement of a deal. It has used years of negotiations to buy time, enriching uranium and building new secret facilities all the while. It has seen how desperate Obama is to avoid war, and to stop Israel from using force on its own. It knows that the White House will come crawling back for another round of talks. Under such conditions, it would be entirely rational for Iran to be on its worst behavior.


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