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.
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.
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.