The U.N. Security Council has steadily increased the pressure on Iran since 2006 with escalating sanctions targeting individuals, companies, nuclear technology and weapons transfers. In addition to these U.N. sanctions, the European Union introduced further sanctions targeting the Iranian oil industry and the U.S. tightened existing Iran sanctions and introduced new and tougher sanctions. This sanctions regime put major constraints on the Iranian economy that forced the Iranian government to enter into negotiations on its nuclear program.
The deal that was struck between Iran and the world powers promises to lift these sanctions in return for Iran’s curtailment of its nuclear enrichment for a period of time. The sanctions are to be lifted once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that Iran has satisfactorily addressed the IAEA’s concerns about Iran’s past illicit nuclear weapon activity and that the current program is civilian in nature.
If the situation is still not resolved, the complaint can be brought before an Advisory Board, made up of members appointed by the two parties to the complaint (for instance, the U.S. and Iran if the U.S. has evidence of Iranian malfeasance) and a third independent member. The Advisory Board will issue a non-binding opinion in 15 days, which would then go back to the Joint Commission for five days. The entire process is not streamlined and opens itself up to opportunities for continuing delays.
It is not a complete “snapback,” however, since it will not be imposed retroactively. Existing contracts and trade would be allowed to continue, so Iran could comply with the deal for years (or not get caught not complying for years) and still reap the rewards of technology and billions of dollars in trade before the sanctions would go back into effect if Iran is caught cheating.
Aside from unnecessary bureaucracy, the more serious problem is that the language in the nuclear deal and in the subsequent U.N. Security Council resolution state that it must be a “significant” compliance issue. This is vague—what exactly constitutes "significant non-compliance?" The fear is that the tendency of the world powers will be to minimize or ignore non-compliance issues as not “significant” enough to rise to the level that would require “snapback” sanctions. Why? Because once the U.N. sanctions are re-introduced, the U.N. Security Council resolution “noted” Iran’s stated position that Iran would stop living up to its commitments in the nuclear deal in full. Essentially, the Security Council resolution allowed the “snapback” sanctions to be held hostage by the deal.
A lot of advocacy and diplomacy went into carefully creating the structure of the U.N.’s Iran sanctions system, and within a few short months that will be reversed, and, despite the “snapback” provisions, difficult to fully re-create if necessitated by Iranian non-compliance. If, after 10 years, the sanctions have not been reintroduced, then the sanctions resolutions expire and cannot be “snapped back.” The Iranian nuclear issue would also then disappear from the Security Council agenda.
Yes, sanctions resolutions could then be reintroduced by the world powers if Iran tries to breakout to a nuclear bomb, but it is a long and difficult process to summon up the international will to do so and avoid a Security Council veto, and by then it would be too little, too late. So, Iran can either wait a few years to cheat after trade is already flowing, or wait 10 years for the credible threat of sanctions to disappear almost entirely.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
For at least a decade, when asked during meetings with government representatives about priority concerns, I have typically listed them as: “Iran, Iran and… Iran.”
No one country is, to be sure, the be-all and end-all of the world’s problems, or the Middle East’s. But Iran – by far the strongest and most vociferous state adversary of Israel – is the patron of most of the non-state forces committed to terrorizing Israel’s people. In fact, both its clerical leadership and its proxies are doctrinally committed to preventing peace with the Jewish state – and to that lone regional democracy’s very destruction.
However, the deadly menace posed by Iran far surpasses even this. The United States, whose own “death” Iranian regime-incited crowds continued to urge even during the recent diplomatic engagement, has long recognized Iran as the leading state sponsor of global terrorism, with casualties spanning from Argentina to Bulgaria. Of late, much alarm has rightly been raised over the horrors of the so-called Islamic State (a Sunni group), but too many have become indifferent to the horrors, domestic and otherwise, of the (Shi’ite) Islamic Republic. In addition to the notorious Quds Force of the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a key, fragile Mediterranean country, Lebanon, is politically dominated by Iran-sponsored Hezbollah – the foremost military power at home, long the “A-team of terrorists” on the international scene, and the defender of last resort of its allied Assad regime in Syria, whose civil strife has seen far more Arabs killed in only four years than have been in at least 70 years of the conflict involving Israel. Indeed, in virtually every site of severe violence and turmoil in the region, from Iraq to Yemen – where dramatically emboldened Houthi rebels now openly hawk their mantra of “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Damnation to the Jews, Victory to Islam” – Iranian fingerprints are to be not-so-subtly found.
Little wonder, then, that for all the chatter in Washington about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “hard-line” demands and anxieties on Iran, those same sentiments are matched, at the very least, by virtually all of America’s Arab partners as well – those who know Iran best and must live with it as next-door neighbors. Notably, no action and no capacity on the part of Israel, and no sharp political differences that they have had with it, has ever so alarmed the Arab states as a potentially nuclear-armed Iran has. Presaging a nuclear arms race in a region that can least afford it, and during an American presidency that had aimed for global nuclear non-proliferation, those Arab states have pledged to match any military capacity that the Iranians acquire.
Little wonder, then, that Israelis across party lines – already facing the most brutally inhospitable of neighborhoods – have been so extraordinarily adamant that the most dangerous of governments not have any capability to obtain the most dangerous of weaponry.
And “capability,” to be certain, is what is key; the watering down of fundamental benchmarks for a nuclear agreement with Iran – from “no nuclear-weapons capability” to “no nuclear weapons” – was a significant, early blunder by international negotiators. Those negotiators have now managed to reach a hard-won deal with Iran – notwithstanding unceasing public animosity, and relentless re-interpretation of mutual understandings, on the part of supreme Iranian authorities – and that deal may buy some short-term benefits. The question is, do temporary benefits outweigh lasting hazards and damage? Fully assessing the agreement’s benefits and drawbacks may be possible only over the course of months, if not years.
Filling a vacuum of uncertainly, the Iran deal could wrest transient Iranian restraint in its nuclear activities for the first time in years, and at a time when world powers, facing an Iran whose nuclear program is now extensive, have either been complicit in or unsure about how to contend with that advancing program. But, by virtually all accounts, Iran has been allowed to remain a nuclear-threshold state, with much of its nuclear infrastructure (and some of its nuclear research and development work) remaining intact. As critically, after only ten or fifteen years of the agreement’s duration, Iran would be significantly freed to race for a nuclear bomb – with world powers left in the same position of determining how, if at all, they might obstruct this unprecedented disaster for international peace and security. Meanwhile, the economic sanctions that at least strained Iranian mischief-making endeavors and prompted the Iranians to negotiate will have been lifted (with just limited possibility of effective restoration). Iranian pursuit of conventional but ever-more-lethal arms will also have progressed unabated – indeed now likely escalated, with foreign acquiescence – and Iran’s de facto status as a nuclear player will have been conceded to by its heavyweight interlocutors.
Even without these factors, cynics – or, as they might prefer, realists – have good reason to fear that the landmark agreement with Iran will not yield responsible Iranian policies or movement toward regional stability. A much-heralded political agreement, and international inspections, utterly failed to stop even singularly isolated North Korea from becoming a regime possessing nuclear weapons. And we know one thing about Iran: notwithstanding its supreme leaders’ express disavowal, in religious terms, of obtaining nuclear arms, Iran has practiced incessant duplicity and subterfuge in its stunningly aggressive pursuit of nuclear capabilities – a pursuit that the world’s most well-informed intelligence agencies unmistakably recognize as consistent with a hunt for access to the most dangerous weapons in existence. The very ability to “break out” as a nuclear-armed state and state-sponsor of terrorists may, after all, be all that Iran needs to afford itself and its proxies relative impunity for their violent fanaticism – or a safeguard against any external notion of supporting Arab Spring-style uprising in Iran, like the abortive one of 2009. The very inability of the U.S. to prevent the unthinkable but long-anticipated would certainly prove a victory for the Islamic Republic – and an undermining of confidence in Washington’s preparedness to defend core interests and allies.
The hope of those endorsing the international nuclear agreement with Iran, beyond interest in again freeing up Iranian oil resources and business opportunities, may not rest on expectation of organic Iranian regime or policy change as much as a mix of trust in an active (if decidedly constrained) inspections protocol, optimism that valuable time will have been bought to detect and effectively disrupt any Iranian nuclear misdeeds, and suspicion that Iranian domestic political considerations (particularly demands for sanctions relief) will ultimately outweigh the temptations of a wild nuclear adventurism. But Iran’s nuclear campaign, despite all the outside pressures and scrutiny, has proven tellingly determined. The policy calculus of an ideologically radical theocracy like Iran, after all, may well differ from the mundane considerations of politicians in foreign capitals like London, Paris and Vienna. Moreover, with the mullahs’ many hard-earned foes, a nuclear “deterrent” may not take a back seat in Tehran to economic growth and rising employment rates as a perceived necessity for self-preservation and policy advancement. If Iran does reach a point of no return in its ability to acquire nuclear arms, the country might even eventually be able to have its cake and eat it too – enjoying near-hegemony in its neighborhood as well as economic strength, enabled by an international community hungry for oil and wary of war.
The war-wariness of Westerners and others is, of course, understandable, and the new deal with Iran does seem poised to make irrelevant the already tepid threat of a Western military response to Tehran’s nuclear activity. No doubt, a military confrontation with Iran – already such a destructive force on the international scene – would have been terribly costly. The only thing far more costly is the prospect of confrontation with an Iran whose illicit nuclear ambitions have been allowed to come to fruition.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University.To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
The June 26, 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the right of same sex couples to marry and to have their unions recognized by all states and the federal government, was part of a big week of decisions out of the court. In a single week we saw significant rulings on issues ranging from the death penalty to the EPA to President Obama's health care reform.
In the case of same sex marriage, the decision was actually the second important Supreme Court decision on the subject in exactly two years. Whether coincidence or not, June 26 is now the date of two decisions that have had a huge impact on the issue of same sex marriage, and, perhaps surprisingly, for the Social Security administration.
In June of 2013, the Supreme Court decided in United States v. Windsor (known as the Windsor case) that the federal government must recognize same sex unions recognized by the states, but did NOT require states to allow marriage, or even recognize those legally performed in other states. This meant that for the first time same sex couples could get many federal benefits, like resident status for non-citizen spouses or filing as married on tax day. Before the Windsor decision, many legally married same sex couples filed as married for state returns and single for federal returns, causing confusion and requiring them to spend more money on accountants than other married couples. Others saw their spouses face deportation.
There are hundreds, even thousands, of other ways that federal recognition of marriage impacted families, so the Department of Justice coordinated and vetted the implementation of federal recognition across all the government agencies. To the surprise of many, one of the most challenging areas for implementation of the ruling was Social Security. While the Windsor decision was often treated in the media like a one-fell-swoop sort of thing, at the Social Security Administration (SSA) it was actually the opening of a year-long deliberative process which resulted in a final rule that was confusing and burdensome for both SSA and potential Social Security beneficiaries.
Social Security’s statute requires SSA to recognize as marital relationships those legal relationships which are recognized by the state in which a person lives. Since Windsor continued to allow states to refuse recognition, some couples were getting recognition—and benefits—from SSA, while others living in “non-marriage states” were not. To make things more complicated, “recognition” can mean many things. If a state allows marriage license for same sex couples, well then it recognizes same sex marriages. But what if a court has ruled that same sex partners can inherit each other’s property like spouses? Does that count? What about domestic partnerships recognized by the states? The Windsor ruling, therefore, left Social Security treating people differently based on their state of residence AND constantly tracking what each state (and its courts) decided to make ongoing determinations about what constitutes recognition.
And this is a high stakes process. Couples in which one person earns less get to take advantage of their spouse’s earnings record, boosting their own social security payment for life (and upon the death of their spouse, their benefit amount goes up again). For people with little non-Social Security retirement income, these distinctions are critically important. Likewise, workers who die leaving spouses, children and step children have earned benefits on which their families can rely, but part of those benefits depend on the recognition of the legal relationship between the adults.
Now with the Obergefell decision, we have what sounds like one-fell-swoop again: presto, all same sex marriages are recognized by Social Security. But once again, the process will be shepherded by the Justice Department and the results will not be immediately apparent. We do expect that in relatively short order, SSA will be able to divest itself of the burden of determining who lives where to know who is married to whom. This will not only provide more low-income retirees with better access to benefits, but it will also remove a costly administrative burden from an agency that can ill afford to waste its time.
Over the past decade SSA has lost workers (to retirement) without being able to replace them, has had to close field offices due to budget constraints, and has reduced some of its direct communication with the public to save money. The Obergefell decision will have many impacts more noticeable and more celebrated, or more debated, than its impact on the Social Security Administration. But for those of us who recognize the importance of SSA’s mission, and the difficult environment in which the employees work, this is a big deal.
Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D has been the B’nai B’rith International director of health and aging policy since 2003 and the deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Senior Services since 2007. Before joining B'nai B'rith International, she taught politics and government at the University of Puget Sound and Georgetown University. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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