Iran accord offers Obama much-needed foreign policy win

2015-04-03 08:45
(File: AP)

(File: AP)

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Washington - A tentative Iran nuclear deal offers US President Barack Obama the prospect of a legacy-gilding victory as he confronts a panoply of foreign policy crises in the sunset of his presidency.

It may be just a framework, but with two years left in office Obama has teed-up an agreement with a decades-old adversary that could vindicate his doctrine of negotiating with US enemies.

Obama's Republican critics were quick to denounce the deal as a sell-out, but the president gave a tough defence of its provisions, insisting he had not let Tehran off the hook.

"If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back in place," he promised.

Since his 2008 run for the White House, Obama has often repeated John F Kennedy's dictum "let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate”.

Back then, the young senator invited charges of naivety by saying he would meet US foes without precondition.

The foes don't come much bigger than Iran.

In 2013, Obama became the first US president to speak to his Iranian counterpart in more than three decades, when he telephoned Hassan Rouhani.

The two countries, he said after the call, had the "prospect of moving beyond" their "difficult history”.

"Difficult" is putting it diplomatically.

Relations have been downright hostile since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and ensuing US embassy hostage crisis.

They have also proved a minefield for successive US presidents.

The 444-day hostage crisis torpedoed Jimmy Carter's re-election bid and the Iran-Contra affair ensnared Ronald Reagan.

In the last decade Iranian support for Iraqi Shi’ite militias helped transform George W Bush's war into a bloody sectarian quagmire.

Today, Tehran is propping up Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, fuelling a civil war that repeatedly breached Obama's self-declared "red lines", making the president look in turn impotent and vacillating.

And - after Obama's White House hailed Yemen the model of US counter-terrorism efforts - a militia, apparently partly armed with Iranian weapons, overthrew the government in Sana’a.

Even Obama would admit on Thursday's agreement is not perfect, or final.

‘Deep division’

It does not slow Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, or end proxy wars that risk igniting an all-out Saudi-Iranian, Sunni-Shi’ite conflagration.

"Of course this deal alone, even if fully implemented, will not end the deep divisions and mistrust between our two countries," Obama said.

"Our concerns will remain so long as Iran continues sponsorship of terrorism, support for proxies that destabilise the Middle East, threats against America's friends and allies like Israel."

And instead of dismantling Iran's nuclear programme, Obama has settled for containing it.

The agreement's limitations open the door wide for attacks from Obama's political foes.

Republicans hope to pin chaos in the Middle East on Democrats hoping to replace him in the White House.

Obama has stressed the Iran nuclear deal does not mean normalising relations with Tehran.

But it takes from the table a major point of stress between the West and Iran that at various points in the last decade appeared poised to boil over into military action.

Obama will now have to make sure Iran is not found to be cheating.

If Tehran does cheat, and Obama's deal falls apart he could be just the latest US president to get caught on the horns of his own Iran policy.

If the deal is respected, Obama may have succeeded in dragging the Middle East away from another bloody conflict, put in place a stepping stone to improving relations with Iran and bolstered his place in the history books.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  iran  |  iran nuclear programme

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