Can The Iran Nuclear Deal Survive Its 2nd Anniversary?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It has been a year since the United States and a pretty unusual coalition including both Russia and China began implementing a landmark nuclear deal with Iran. But by the end of this week, the president who supported that deal will give way to a new president who has been openly hostile towards it. So can the Iran deal survive to see its second anniversary? Let's pose that question to NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is joining us from Istanbul. Peter, good morning.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So let's remember, this was a deal that - I mean, it took a long time to hammer out. The U.N. Security Council endorsed it. Is it in jeopardy? That's the big question. But why don't you start by just reminding us what this last year has been like.
KENYON: It looks like it is in jeopardy. Now, the deal, as you remember, made big cuts in Iran's nuclear program. Iran is basically a lot farther now from getting a nuclear weapon than it was before, and it should remain so for at least a decade if the deal holds. There have been some violations. It hasn't been perfect, but they're being corrected. And on the Iranian side, the deal meant billions of dollars, plus aviation deals, oil and gas deals but for ordinary Iranians not really the kind of rapid improvement that they were promised.
GREENE: And we're seeing some new analysis, a new report out today looking at the deal's first year and where it might go in the future, right?
KENYON: Yeah. And it's from the International Crisis Group, which has followed this very closely. It says the deal is basically working as promised, but what it hasn't done is change the political atmosphere. It hasn't convinced skeptics either in Washington or Tehran. And remember, it's not a treaty. The Congress never approved it. I talked with the group's Iran analyst, Ali Vaez. He made an interesting comment. He says the deal probably isn't strong enough to survive if on every other issue the U.S. and Tehran are still at loggerheads. Here's a little bit of what he said.
ALI VAEZ: And we have realized just looking at the experience of the past year that there is so much instability in the deal. The environment in which it is implemented is so unstable that its long-term sustainability is really in question. This is regardless of who would be president in Iran or in the United States.
KENYON: Now, that's interesting on a couple of fronts. First, the deal was shaky even before Trump's election win. And second, this isn't what we were hearing when they were hammering the deal out. Then they all said, look, this is an arms control agreement period. We're not supposed to solve all the problems. Now, this report says maybe there do need to be some spin-off effects just to shore up the nuclear agreement.
GREENE: OK. If there's a belief that there should be spin-off effects and change Iran's behavior, if the Obama administration couldn't really do that, is there any thinking at all that the Trump administration would be able to?
KENYON: (Laughter) Well, the proper answer - we don't know. He hasn't taken office yet. But the signs are not good. His latest interview with The Times of London, he calls the Iran agreement the dumbest deal he's ever seen. He's talked about improving it, but he hasn't said how he plans to get Russia, China and the European countries to get on board with that. But that's not even the biggest threat. The big threat is Congress. Republican leaders there, they've got the votes for new sanctions. That would trigger a hard-line backlash in Tehran. And they've got their own presidential elections this year and anti-American rhetoric is building.
GREENE: So if you say that there might be a hard-line backlash in Iran, what is Iran saying so far when we have this moment of transition here in the U.S.?
KENYON: Well, a senior negotiator says, Tehran, forget it. We're not going to renegotiate this deal. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has said if you change it, we're going to burn it. Iran's president is supposed to hold a news conference on the agreement. That could happen tomorrow. So hopefully we'll learn a little bit more then.
GREENE: OK, talking to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul about the future of the nuclear deal with Iran. Peter, thanks.
KENYON: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.