Report

U.N. Backs Iranian Nuclear Deal

Europe sees warmer relations with Tehran, but the United States is playing it cool.

ARAK, IRAN - OCTOBER 27:  Iran's controversial heavy water production facility is seen in this general view, October 27, 2004 at Arak, south of the Iranian capital Tehran.  Iran said Wednesday that the plant will go online within a month despite international pressure to suspend such nuclear-related activities. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
ARAK, IRAN - OCTOBER 27: Iran's controversial heavy water production facility is seen in this general view, October 27, 2004 at Arak, south of the Iranian capital Tehran. Iran said Wednesday that the plant will go online within a month despite international pressure to suspend such nuclear-related activities. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Monday to endorse a landmark nuclear pact that would lift international sanctions against Iran in exchange for Tehran’s commitment to subject its nuclear program to far greater scrutiny.

While the key provisions won’t be implemented for at least another 90 days — allowing time for the U.S. Congress to review the deal and for Iran to begin scaling back its nuclear program — foreign diplomats gathered around the iconic horseshoe-shaped table were already contemplating future dealings with Iran on a range of issues, from expanding trade to cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State.

The resolution “creates the baseline from which to recalibrate our broader relationship with Iran,” Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s U.N. ambassador, told the 15-nation council after the vote. “It is an opportunity for us all to re-engage economically and culturally with an important regional power as it takes on its proper responsibility for improving stability in the region.”

The vote automatically enhanced Iran’s standing at the United Nations. For the first time in nearly a decade, Iran will no longer be considered a serial violator of U.N. resolutions aimed at halting its enrichment of uranium and other sensitive nuclear activities. But it also placed Tehran on notice that if it violates the terms of the nuclear bargain, the United States and other key powers retain the right to reimpose all U.N. sanctions.

Even as the council convened, Germany’s vice chancellor and minister for economic affairs and energy, Sigmar Gabriel, was in Tehran, leading a delegation of German executives, trade industry representatives, and scientists. In the first high-level German visit to Iran in 13 years, Gabriel met Monday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The delegation — which included representatives from major German firms like Mercedes-Benz and Siemens — also met with Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh. Speaking to Iranian and German business leaders in Tehran Sunday, Gabriel said that good economic relations with Iran would depend on an improvement in Iran’s attitude towards Israel.

Germany’s U.N. envoy, Harald Braun, said he hoped Monday’s vote presaged improved relations between Tehran and Europe. “We also hope that it will open the door to a more constructive Iranian foreign policy and ultimately contribute to a more secure and stable diplomacy,” he told the council.

Iran’s U.N. envoy, Gholamali Khoshroo, said his government hoped the resolution would “herald a new chapter” in Iran’s relationship with the U.N. Security Council and other key powers, and spur international trade and regional security cooperation aimed at confronting the Islamic State and other Sunni extremist groups.

“With the dust settled over the nuclear issue, we are now free to focus on real issues and benefit from the better environment conducive to wider cooperation among all actors,” Khoshroo told the council. “This is the time to start working together against our common and important challenges, which include, above all, violent extremism.”

Ron Prosor, Israel’s permanent envoy to the United Nations, said that Western powers placing their hopes in the emergence of a more accommodating and moderate Iran were fooling themselves. “I hate to be the one who spoils the party, but someone has to say that the emperor has no clothes,” he said in a statement outside the U.N. Security Council, enumerating a list of Iranian-linked terrorist attacks from Argentina to Bulgaria. “Iran will now have $150 billion to fund terrorist groups.”

One outstanding question is whether the goodwill produced by this deal will spill over into improved relations between Iran and the United States, which severed diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic in 1980 after pro-government students seized the U.S. embassy, holding American officials hostage for 444 days. U.S. nationals and companies, which will still be subject to U.S. sanctions on Iran after the U.N. measures are lifted, will be restricted from participating in the flood of potential business deals with Iranian companies.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has cultivated a close personal relationship with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, spending more time in closed-door negotiations with Tehran’s emissary than with any other foreign minister. The nuclear deal will provide ample opportunities for other American and Iranian diplomats to develop intimate working relations as they seek to implement the nuclear deal.

For now, U.S. officials are focused on assuring key allies critical of the deal, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, that the United States will ensure their security fears are addressed. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in Israel on Sunday — the first leg in a tour that will take him to Jordan and Saudi Arabia — to discuss plans to step up military cooperation with the Jewish state. While Carter said there were no immediate plans to supply new U.S. weapons to America’s Middle East allies, he said he would discuss ways to strengthen Israel’s missile defense system and counterterrorism capabilities, according to a report in Bloomberg News.

President Barack Obama’s administration will also be stepping up its efforts to sell the deal to skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who will question Kerry and American intelligence officials in a series of classified and public hearings later this week. The administration delivered a copy of the landmark Vienna nuclear pact to Congress on Sunday. Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Review Act, authored by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congress will have sixty days to consider whether to approve or oppose the deal. President Obama has vowed to veto any vote rejecting the deal.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have protested the administration’s decision to put the deal before the U.N. Security Council before Congress has an opportunity to weigh in on it. “We are disappointed that the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on Iran this morning before Congress was able to fully review and act on this agreement,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said in a joint statement issued after the vote. “We are also greatly concerned that the resolution lifts restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles in eight years and conventional arms in five years. Regardless of this morning’s outcome, Congress will continue to play its role.”

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was cautious about the prospects of a general thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran. “This nuclear deal doesn’t change our profound concern about human rights violations committed by the Iranian government or about the instability Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program — from its support for terrorist proxies, to its repeated threats against Israel, to its other destabilizing activities in the region,” Power told the council after the vote. “That is why the United States will continue to invest in the security of our allies in the region and why we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missiles program, and its human rights violations.”

Khoshroo later fired back, telling the council that “feckless and reckless” acts by the United States, which launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are at the root of the region’s security troubles. “It is ironic that the distinguished ambassador of the [United States] accused my government of destabilizing the region and terrorism,” he said. “The country that invaded two countries in our region and created favorable ground for the growth of terrorism and extremism is not well-placed to raise such accusations.”

Photo credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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