Amid Resistance, Iranian Nuclear Deal Goes Into Effect

A six-month deal to negotiate a limit to Iran's nuclear program and loosen Western sanctions is set to go into effect on Monday. But resistance from hardliners in both the U.S. and Tehran could mean trouble for negotiations. Melissa Block talks with Iran analyst Robin Wright. Wright is just back from a reporting trip to Iran.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Listen to how Iran's president today characterized the nuclear deal that's been reached between his country and Western powers. Hassan Rouhani told a crowd: It means the surrender of big powers before the great nation of Iran. Under the landmark deal, Tehran agreed to limits on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from some Western sanctions. The six-month deal goes into effect next Monday, and it's meant to buy time for a longer-term agreement.

For more on what's to come, I'm joined by Robin Wright who has covered Iran for decades. She's a joint fellow at the Wilson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace, and she recently returned from a reporting trip to Iran. Robin, welcome back to the program.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Thank you.

BLOCK: How do you read the rhetoric today from President Rouhani? I was also looking at his Twitter feed and he tweeted: World powers surrendered to the Iranian nation's will.

WRIGHT: It's called politics. Both President Rouhani in Iran and President Obama in Washington are struggling right now to make sure that their parliaments, or Congress, go along with this very important nuclear deal. President Obama faces opposition with the new move on sanctions by the Senate. And President Rouhani in Iran faces a parliament that is dominated by hard-liners. So this is only the beginning of what's a long negotiating process, but a long political process as well.

BLOCK: Language like that of President Rouhani - the provocative language like that could really backfire here in Congress. I mean, there's a strong faction in the U.S. Congress that's prepared to vote to impose new sanctions on Iran. And wouldn't language like we're hearing from President Rouhani add credence to their argument, that this deal benefits Tehran more than the West?

WRIGHT: Well, the new sanctions bill actually already has 59 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats. So I suspect it doesn't need a whole lot of new momentum. It's getting to the point that even if President Obama vetoes it, it could be veto-proof.

BLOCK: You interviewed Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif when you were there. And you asked him what would happen if the U.S. imposed new sanctions during this time. What did he tell you?

WRIGHT: He said diplomacy would die. That this is a good faith effort by the Iranians, and that both governments have to speak with one voice. The reality is, as we all know, is that Iran has multiple voices, multiple factions that are often debating among themselves. And it's no easier for President Rouhani to bring his own parliament along, than it will be for President Obama to bring Congress along.

BLOCK: So the deal is hanging in the balance, you're saying.

WRIGHT: The real tragedy is that Congress could actually undermine the very thing that the United States wants to prevent a war; and a new sanctions bill would amount to a war resolution. Because without disarmament talks, without a strong diplomatic effort that is now backed by the entire international community, there aren't many options. And that means the military option then reemerges as the way to ensure that Iran doesn't get a weapon.

BLOCK: That argument, that march to war argument, is also being offered up by the Obama administration. But supporters of the sections say: Look, this is what worked. Sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Impose more sanctions, you'll get more results.

WRIGHT: Sanctions were clearly a part of the reason that Iran ended up at the negotiating table. But having just been there, I think there are a lot of other reasons. The deal says, in Geneva, there will be no new sanctions. And so, part of this diplomacy is really about confidence-building and a sense of trust, and can we get beyond the hostilities that have characterized 35 years of relations between particularly the United States and Iran.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the timeline here. The deal goes into effect next Monday, more negotiations are to follow. Is it clear to you, that in the six-month timeframe that they've laid out, that these parties could come to a binding long-term agreement on all of these issues?

WRIGHT: The talks in Geneva were tough. The next six months are going to be far tougher. There are some very basic questions, including will Iran be allowed to enrich uranium, the fuel cycle used for both peaceful nuclear energy and to build the world's deadliest bomb.

BLOCK: Which Iran has said is fundamental.

WRIGHT: And Iran claims that it needs it to build whether it's great medical isotopes for cancer research. But it's clear that it will have to back down on a lot of its capabilities. Iran knows that.

I think for the first time, Iran and the international community are on the same page. Whether they can turn that page to do a deal is still an open question.

BLOCK: Robin Wright, joint fellow at the Wilson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Robin, thanks for coming in.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

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