Decision time on Iran: IU panel discusses domestic, regional and foreign impact of deal

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Speaking to an overflow crowd of over 200, Indiana University experts discussed the domestic, regional and foreign attitudes and implications of the pending Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, colloquially called the Iran nuclear deal, in a Sept. 8 panel discussion.

The panel had much to discuss, especially because it followed only hours after U.S. Democrats claimed to have the Senate votes necessary to block a Republican resolution expressing disapproval of the agreement.

From left, panelists Jamsheed Choksy, Asma Afsaruddin, Feisal Istrabadi and Lee Hamilton discuss the Iran nuclear agreement.

From left, panelists Jamsheed Choksy, Asma Afsaruddin, Feisal Istrabadi and Lee Hamilton discuss the Iran nuclear agreement.

The panel, “Decision Time on Iran,” was the first event in the new School of Global and International Studies auditorium and included Asma Afsaruddin, professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures; Jamsheed Choksy, Distinguished Professor of Central Eurasian Studies; former U.S. Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Distinguished Professor off Practice at SGIS; and Feisal Istrabadi, founding director of the IU Center for the Study of the Middle East and former Iraqi ambassador and deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Nick Cullather, associate dean of SGIS, moderated the panel until Lee Feinstein, dean of the school, took over about 30 minutes in, straight out of a Chicago taxi.

Cullather began by explaining the qualities of the agreement itself. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action grew out a framework reached by the foreign ministers of Iran, the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., Russia, France, China + Germany) and the European Union in April. The formal plan proposal was announced July 14 with a Sept. 17 deadline to vote on it in the U.S.

“The agreement was met with a resounding silence by Americans — a silence that boded a political firestorm,” said Cullather after describing the jubilation of most Iranians and other involved countries.

Congress now has the opportunity to vote to disapprove the agreement. If it were voting for approval, the panel most likely would never have come together, because a majority in Congress opposes the deal. While the House clearly has the votes to disapprove the agreement, 42 Democratic senators have said they will support President Obama on the plan, enough to prevent a Senate vote.

After explaining the terms of the deal, Cullather turned to Hamilton and asked him to draw on his experience in Washington, including his time as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to describe what members of Congress are feeling during a decision like this.

“This vote is hugely consequential,” began Hamilton. “This is a vote that will define a member of Congress … and defines the institution of the Congress.”

With big money pressuring members of Congress and constant phone calls, letters, emails and personal appeals — not to mention all the lobbyists, campaign contributors, constituents and presidential aides – both sides are mobilized in the tug-of-war attempt to change votes.

Afsaruddin spoke to sentiments further from home but equally consequential: those of the intellectual elite in Iran.

“There is a very healthy dissident mentality that is prevalent among the thinking elite,” said Afsaruddin. This is in stark contrast to how Iranians are often portrayed in U.S. media. But Iran has hardliners just like those in the U.S. Congress, she explained.

Drawing further parallels between the U.S. Congress and Iran, Choksy described the limited powers of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and pointed to past international agreements that failed when Iranian presidents tried to take action without the consent of parliament.

But conservative Iranian lawmakers remain stalwart that the deal diminishes Iranian nuclear achievements, and they do not believe that the U.S. will lift sanctions and grapple with enduring anti-American sentiments in the post 1979 revolution world.

Successfully implementing the agreement requires overcoming the Iranian conservatives but also American allies in the region, explained Istrabadi. There is an uneasiness growing that the U.S. might be willing to throw its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia under the bus to improve relations with Iran.

“I don’t think the Middle East was in this much turmoil even in the colonial period,” said Istrabadi. “There is a fear in the region of a rampant rising Iran.”

Despite the apparent success of the Democrats in the U.S. so far, panelists said, the deal remains up in the air because any demonstrations or unrest in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran or other parts of the region still have the possibility of derailing the efforts.

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