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Iran Nuclear Deal Sparks Joy, Criticism, and Cautious Optimism

Arms control experts and hopeful Iranians are celebrating the Iran nuclear deal, while Iranian hardliners, Israelis, and others criticized the agreement.

by Noor Wazwaz and Amina Ismail
Jul 15 2015, 9:25pm

Iranians take a selfie on the roof of their car as they celebrate in the street of Tehran, Iran on July 14 2015, after nuclear talks between Iran and World powers ended in Vienna, Austria. Abdedin Taherkenareh/EPA

While thousands of Iranians celebrated the Iran nuclear deal in the streets of Tehran and hoped for a swift end to international sanctions that have left their economy in tatters, Iranian hardliners, Israelis, and others criticized the agreement.

"I don't want to comment on the record now," one hardline Iranian politician told the New York Times Tuesday, "but it seems our negotiators have gone too far with some of their promises, especially on the level of inspections. And the system for the lifting of sanctions is also not clear."

Reactions from around the Middle East, and further afield, were just as mixed.

The deal was welcomed by many international leaders, including Pope Francis, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and, surprisingly, even by some Sunni Muslim state officials.

Egypt "expressed hope that the deal between both sides is complete and prevents an arms race in the Middle East as well as ensuring the region is free of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons," read a statement by the Egyptian foreign ministry.

For more than 36 years, Egypt and Iran have not had full diplomatic relations since President Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel and after Iran went through the Islamic revolution.

The Saudi Gazette reported that an official source told the state-run Saudi Press Agency said, "Given that Iran is a neighbor, Saudi Arabia hopes to build with her better relations in all areas on the basis of good neighborliness and non-interference in internal affairs."

Iran's allies, of course, were elated with the nuclear agreement. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the deal constitutes a "major turning point in the history of Iran, the region and the world."

Iran has been the main backer of Assad in his fight against a rebellion that has challenged his rule since 2011. Many Syria analysts credit Iran with providing critical weapons, supplies and funding to Assad, without which his regime may not have survived.

"We are quite assured that the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue, with greater momentum, supporting the just issues of peoples and working for peace and stability to prevail in the region and the world," read an article on the agreement by the Syrian Arab News Agency.

One of the groups Assad has been battling, with Iranian and Hezbollah's help, is the Islamic State. At the same time, Sunni Arab countries around the world have been sympathetic to the largely Sunni insurgency battling Assad, including IS.

Hassan Hassan, an associate fellow with the London-based think tank Chatham House told the Wall Street Journal that the deal would complicate efforts by the United States to assemble a coalition of Sunni Muslim countries to battle IS.

"ISIS will benefit a lot from this deal; segments of the Sunni community in the region will see Iran as having won and brought in from the dark," he said.

Related: To Save Their Relationship, Obama Invites Arab Allies to His Millennium Falcon

Daryl Kimball, executive director of Arms Control Association, told VICE News that although Congress has expressed doubts during the negotiations, there is "no better deal on the horizon."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it obvious that he thought a better deal was possible.

"What a stunning historic mistake," he said at a news conference in Jerusalem. "Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons."

Since the start of the Iran talks, relations between the US and Israel have been "very contentious," according to Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. "And that seems to be the recurring theme coming out of Jerusalem these days," he said.

Tuesday's deal aimed at reining Iran's nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions that have been straining Iran's economy for decades.

The Republican-led Congress has 60 days to review the agreement. If Congress rejects it, President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday that he would veto the resolution of disapproval.

In that event, the only way Congress could block the deal from taking effect would be by achieving a two-thirds majority in each chamber to override a White House veto.

VICE News spoke to Daryl Kimball, who in addition to serving as director of the Arms Control Association is also the former head of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers and a Herbert R. Scoville Peace Fellow. He reviewed the "complex and consequential" agreement.

The agreement, he said in a phone interview, blocks Iran's ability to produce enough highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons for at least ten years.

The document also puts in place a layered inspection system that has some "novel, new and strong elements that will make it exceedingly difficult for Iran to cheat on the agreement and seek to build nuclear weapons."

Iran agreed to these terms in return for easing punitive sanctions that have crippled the country's economy.

"The deal specifically prohibits Iran from engaging in activities that they're suspected of doing about a decade ago that have utility for building a nuclear bomb," Kimball said. "Now they are strictly prohibited from doing that work."

Under the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to conduct on-site inspections on short notice at any site, including military sites. If there is a dispute about an inspection or any other issue in the agreement, there's a commission that includes each of the countries that are party to the agreement, and Iran.

If Iran does not comply, UN sanctions can be imposed.

"It will clearly be against Iran's interest not to cooperate, and they cannot stonewall IAEA visits or questions about something that they're doing," Kimball told VICE News.

Related: Critics Say Nuclear Deal Will 'Fuel Iran's Terrorism'

However, Michael Makovsky, chief executive officer of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, who at a July 9 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing urged Congress to reject the looming agreement, is still concerned.

"They are gonna get a lot of money for some limitations on their nuclear program, and in 15 years they will have international blessings for their nuclear program," Makovsky told VICE News in a phone interview.

"The ballistic missile and arms embargo is also concerning," he said. "This is really a historical blunder with really severe consequences."

Christopher Bidwell, senior fellow at Federation of American Scientists, agreed with the Nuclear Information Project's Hans Kristensen that implementation and monitoring of the agreement will be the next challenge.

"Proof is always in the pudding," Kristensen told VICE News.

Kimball said that if the US were to walk away from the deal the "alternatives are not very bright."

"Holding out for a better agreement would have led to deadlock and the end of limits on Iran's nuclear program," he added.

"Diplomacy," Kristensen agreed "was the only way forward."

But Republican leaders in Congress remain skeptical. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican from California, expressed concern that Iran could turn into another North Korea.

"That's a bad deal for us: Permanent concessions in exchange for temporary benefits, and that's only if Iran doesn't cheat, like North Korea did," he said.

Kimball told VICE News "such analogies are simplistic and they don't apply because there are two very different agreements."

The 1994 agreement with North Korea did not provide strong incentives, he told VICE News.

"It was in their interest to violate the agreement because the benefits were not strong enough," Kimball said.

The agreement with Iran "has an extremely robust monitoring verification system" and Iran faces "severe penalties if they violate the agreement and for a very long period of time," he added.

Criticism will likely increase in coming days as experts review the agreement in depth.

"End of day, the real question is whether or not this deal is a much better deal than the type of uncertain future that was there before, and I think in that sense, it's definitely a win-win for the Obama administration," Kristensen said.

Follow Noor Wazwaz and Amina Ismail on Twitter: @nfwazwaz and @AminaIsmail

Watch the VICE News, documentary, "American Jihadist: Eric Harroun In His Own Words." 

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