Daniel Falcone: Can you give me your opinion on the Iran nuclear-deal framework that was created under Obama? What are your thoughts on the original policy?
Richard Falk: The carefully negotiated agreement with Iran on its nuclear program in 2015—formally known as the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and informally as the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran—was undoubtedly the greatest foreign-policy accomplishment of the Obama presidency. It was achieved despite fierce and unscrupulous domestic opposition orchestrated by the unabashedly pro-Israel Congress, which did all it could to stop the deal from happening, while Black Cube, the private Israeli intelligence firm, was doing its best to block the process by resorting to its bag of dirty tricks.
The agreement’s central bargain was an exchange of strict controls on Iran’s nuclear program for phased sanctions relief that was conditional on verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran was in full compliance with the agreement. To begin with, it should be obvious that the core of the agreement was incredibly favorable to the West, as well as of great benefit to its regional and global nonproliferation goals. P5+1 was, in some sense, a terrible deal—but not as Trump meant it. Rather, as the Iranian hard-line critics contended.
The US government agreed to soften its harsh sanctions program by stage. The sanctions regime was itself questionable, a prime instance of dubious reliance on coercive diplomacy and double standards, given the silence about Israel’s nuclear-weapons capability. Iran’s willingness to accept the most intrusive international inspection commitments ever undertaken was a calculated risk, seeking normalization, which has now resulted in disappointment and betrayal.
In other words, Iran accepted major encroachments on the normal scope of its sovereign rights so as to obtain promised relief from sanctions that had caused economic austerity in Iran and considerable suffering by the Iranian people. From a political viewpoint all major states—except, of course, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and US—agree that JCPOA was a huge victory for moderates in Iran when signed, and a severe setback for Iranian hard-liners, who had a far better case for their opposition to its terms than did the pro-Israel forces in 2014–15 and far better than does Trump now. It is notable that Trump’s repeated denunciations of the agreement as “a disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated” were never backed up by evidence—there was none—or even by specific allegations, except for the irrelevant charges that Iran was doing political things in the region that Washington opposed, although the United States was doing similar things on a far larger scale.