JCPOA failed to open up economic and political space within Iran


Activist Iyad el-Baghdadi had initially hoped that the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would give Iran’s entrepreneurs, reformists, and civil society at large more breathing space:

I thought that the momentum created by the lifting of sanctions would be used by Iran’s regime reformists to push for economic and political liberalisation. Sanctions rarely change the behaviour of a committed regime and instead punish and weaken society, critically reducing its ability to push against its own regime, and hence leading to entrenchment rather than change.

I had hoped that the lifting of sanctions and the return of foreign trade could create a momentum that can lead to an “opening up” of economic and political space within Iran, allowing civil society and native reformers some breathing space.

I now see I was wrong in that hope. …I now see that it’s more likely that we’ll see exactly the opposite, with existing powers entrenching themselves even further, he writes.

By contrast, the nuclear agreement has given new impetus to the reform movement within Iran and empowered democratic constituencies, argues a new report from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO):

The February 2016 parliamentary election results proved this point, especially in Tehran, where all elected members were from the reformist camp. The composition of the parliament changed in favor of President Rouhani, who had been recently able to gain more support from liberals (including members of the Parliament, reform minded journalists, intellectuals and general public) thanks to his success in settling the nuclear case. Now with his proven promises to convert diplomatic achievements into tangible economic gains (by lifting of sanctions), he has more freedom to pursue a variety of reforms. These include steps towards more stable internal politics, institutional reforms which could open the path to a more attractive environment for foreign investment, and a sustained strategy of constructive engagement with Iran’s neighbors, as well as with western countries and with rising powers globally (BRICS countries and others).

While the JCPOA addressed only the nuclear issue, efforts to bolster deterrence would be more credible if the United States also increased the cost of Iran’s threatening and destabilizing behavior in the region, which has hardly changed since the deal was signed, argues Dennis Ross, the counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute and former senior Middle East advisor to President Obama (2009-2011):

Here, Washington should be guided by the same logic that got the Iranians to the table on the nuclear issue: raising the price for not altering their behavior, but still leaving them a way out. This means addressing Tehran’s actions vis-a-vis Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestinian terrorist groups. Iran can have a place in a regional security system, but not if it threatens its neighbors and seeks domination. The high cost of sanctions is what produced some semblance of movement in Iranian policy, in the form of Rouhani’s election. So if Washington wants to bolster deterrence and strengthen Rouhani’s camp, it must make the adventurist policies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and their elite Qods Force too costly for Iran.

In the year since the JCPOA, Iran has consistently worked on a campaign of financial and political legitimization. It has increased its demands for sanctions relief not negotiated as part of the Iran deal and demanded access to the global financial sector without changing its underlying illicit behavior. What should be the way forward and what role can Congress play? The Foundation for Defense of Democracies asks.

Experts will touch on these and other important issues on Monday.  Lunch and registration will begin at 11:45am in the Capitol Hill Visitor Center, Room HVC-200. Advance registration is required.

Risky Business in Iran: One Year Since the JCPOA

A conversation with
Mark Dubowitz
Eric Lorber
and Indira Lakshmanan

Monday, July 11, 2016
12:00pm – 1:15pm 

Lunch and registration will begin at 11:45am
To RSVP, click here.

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