In the popular board game Monopoly, a player gets one chance to pass “Go,” and in the process, collect $200. In Vienna, where negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program have been underway for the past year, life seems to be imitating art — but the consequences are far beyond what one might win or lose on any game board.
The player that stands to win the most in this game is Iran. The deal entered into in 2015 by the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia, plus Germany), known as the JCPOA, is now generally acknowledged to have been a “bad deal.” (Some are now using the words “dangerous” or “horrible,” but we get the point.) Bad, because it leaves out aspects of Iran’s nuclear program like ballistic missile and centrifuge development, snap inspections of nuclear sites, and the manufacture of uranium metal. It contains sunset clauses that would allow Iran, in relatively short order, to go back into the nuclear weapons business.
Given the transparent flaws in the JCPOA, the Trump administration left the deal in 2018. Additional sanctions were imposed on Tehran, inflicting severe economic stress on the regime. Despite this, it has ratcheted up its uranium enrichment, tested missiles and developed newer and more efficient centrifuges. Iran’s intentions are clear: it seeks to develop weapons, by hook or by crook.
But it is not just Iran’s nuclear program that has raised deep concern. Its hegemonic objectives in the Middle East are advanced in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen by no less than six proxy armies that it funds, trains and arms — including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen. It is seeking to build and deploy a blue-water navy. It has fired rockets at American bases and at its Gulf neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Only days ago, it took credit for firing — from Iranian territory — rockets into Erbil, Iraq, which landed in the vicinity of the American consulate there, claiming it was an attack on an “Israeli facility.” The regime does so with impunity, sticking fingers not only in the eyes of its enemies and its rivals, but at the United States itself, with which it sits at the table in Vienna.
All the while, Iran’s genocidal calls for the elimination of Israel continue unabated. On a daily basis, Iranian leaders at the highest level continue their call to excise “the Zionist cancer” from the region.
In sum, the JCPOA was merely a veil with a timer attached. That clock, if a new agreement comes out of the Vienna talks, will soon be ticking again. It will wind down in two or three years, leaving Iran not only with a clear field in which to develop its nuclear weapons program, but with its pockets full of tens of billions of dollars, freed up by the sanctions it is demanding be removed from it. That cash can further fund a nuclear weapons program, terrorism carried out on an international scale by its proxies, and other malign behavior in the Middle East and beyond.
Leaks and rumors over the past few weeks have been focused on some disturbing, potential new elements in a revised JCPOA deal. Specifically, Tehran is said to have demanded that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the spearhead of its campaigns of terror and military activity, be removed from various terrorism lists.
Just as disturbing is another alleged demand: that sanctions be lifted from Mohsen Rezaei, who is currently Iran’s vice president for Economic Affairs, and Ali Akbar Velayati, the former Iranian foreign minister, for their central roles in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish social welfare building in Buenos Aires, which resulted in the death of 85 people and the injuring of hundreds of others. Interpol has issued “Red Notices” for Rezaei; the notices are circulated internationally and “seek the location and arrest of a person wanted by a legal jurisdiction or an international tribunal with a view to his/her extradition.”
Such concessions to those who not only traffic in international terror, but direct it, would send an unmistakable signal that expediency counts far more than values, resolve, or more important, common sense. To return for a moment to the Monopoly board game, it is a “get out of jail” pass for a regime that for four decades, has made a career of state-sponsored terrorism and the promotion of mayhem and instability far beyond its own neighborhood.
Why would any country simply look the other way and reward Iran — for what?
The arguments for a renewed JCPOA are based on the belief that a bad deal is better than no deal, and that what might come out of Vienna will at least keep the lid on Iran’s nuclear weapons activity for a time; in other words, the diplomatic means of kicking a dangerous can down the road.
Hindsight is sometimes not 20/20. Many said, in 2015, that negotiations with Iran should have covered three baskets of Iranian malign behavior: the nuclear program, support for terrorism, and human rights (Iran being of the world’s worst abusers of followers of the Bahai religion, women, LGBTQI people, juvenile offenders and others).
The Vienna talks are another opportunity to circumvent the JCPOA itself, which is limited to nuclear-only issues, and confront the Iranians on the entire charge sheet brought about by their across-the-board rogue behavior.
But, as in 2015, that ship seems to have sailed.
Instead, we are now faced, on all three issues, with an impudent Iran seemingly calling most of the shots at the negotiating table, and getting rewarded for its destructive behavior to boot. Expediency seems to be the operative guidepost in the Vienna talks, rather than sending a watertight message to Tehran that its rogue modus operandi must cease, full stop.
Competitive as they may be, board games usually end with a good time had by all. The game going on in Vienna — based on what we know now by leaving open the door to Iran’s destructive designs — will surely not end that way.