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Winners and Losers in the Iran deal, if it sticks

The Iran deal: Who’s for it and who’s not

President Barack Obama, standing with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 14, 2015, after an Iran nuclear deal is reached. After 18 days of intense and often fractious negotiation, diplomats Tuesday declared that world powers and Iran had struck a landmark deal to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

The ink has barely dried on the Iran deal, and its opponents in Congress now have two months to try to scratch it out as they inspect every element of the agreement, determining whether or not to give it their approval.

But as it stands, the historic accord to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and lift long-standing congressional and international sanctions has already created some winners and losers – especially if President Obama can retain enough support for the details to protect his already-pledged veto of any vote to sink it.


Barack Obama and John Kerry: It may seem painfully obvious to categorize the president and his secretary of state as winners. And certainly several Republicans have accused the two Democrats of compromising American security interests in their haste to earn a notch on the belt of their legacies. But no matter how you slice it, it’s a win for them to have struck a deal to end a diplomatic standoff that has progressively isolated an accused rogue state from the rest of the world for decades.

Obama and the former Massachusetts senator face a tough audience. But they can make a strong case to their allies in Congress, given that the deal at least addresses Democrats’ main concerns that it phase-in sanctions instead of handing over the store, and includes a procedure to snap sanctions back into place should Iran break its promises. A two-thirds majority in both houses would be necessary to override the president’s veto, and that’s not an easy threshold for opponents to clear.

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Obama’s Democratic backers in Congress: They held their tongues as they held their breath, and the once-harsh criticism died down to a murmur in Democratic circles as Kerry and the other negotiators from the P5+1 crew slogged through a two-and-a-half week long marathon session of final negotiations.

Not everything is what they were hoping for: For example, the gradual lifting of the international arms embargo, a non-starter for some, will be tough to swallow. And the deal is still for a limited time, which means the break-out window for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon down the line hasn’t been entirely walled off.

Here's what's in the Iran nuclear deal, explained in 60 seconds. (Video: Gillian Brockell and Julio C. Negron/The Washington Post)

But those seeking to back Obama emerged with some real things to hang their hat on: The deal does not roll back international sanctions until the International Atomic Energy Agency says the Islamic Republic has met certain benchmarks in dismantling operations in its nuclear reactors, outlined in the deal; also there is a snapback procedure for re-imposing sanctions – one that relies in large part on an international advisory board made up of representatives of the P5+1 states reviewing claims and coming to an agreement, which could end up being about as dysfunctional as the U.N. Security Council’s activities. But a snapback procedure nonetheless, which will let those that were hoping for a deal call a strong step in the right direction.

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Iran: The ostracized nation is back in the world’s business, and stands a good chance of being the planet’s economic prom queen in the next few years, even as most countries continue to eye Iran’s geopolitical ambitions warily. That’s because you can’t be a country sitting on one of the world’s very largest supplies of natural gas and oil, with one of the globe’s largest raw building materials industries, and 80 million consumers ready to spend their rials on heretofore banned imports, without getting a few international businesspeople a little excited. Once sanctions are lifted, Iran will also regain access to assets around the world that were frozen, another potential windfall in resurrecting the country’s economic standing.

Iran’s allies: A richer Iran likely means happier Iranian allies – which may be a source of consternation to many U.S. lawmakers, who have been trying their best to compartmentalize the Iranian nuclear question from the many other U.S. disagreements with Iran, such as its support for groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime in Syria. But, as some of Obama’s supporters in Congress have pointed out, those are the next fights, and reestablishing relations with Iran in the nuclear ring may give this country’s some additional leverage over Iran’s other geopolitical activities than it had before. They hope.

Russia: The U.S.’s revived Cold War opponent is champing at the bit to send its weapons to Iran, and this deal will eventually give them the chance. That likely means a quickening of security ties between Russia and Iran, not to mention the money that a newly-enriched Iran may soon choose to spend on augmenting its Russian-made arsenal.


AIPAC and Israel: They have been warning against a deal, and advocating a more hawkish strategy to contend with Iran since the idea of negotiations was first raised.  In the wake of the agreement, the powerful lobby’s opposition is no less strong.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a “jackpot” for Iran and a “bad mistake of historic proportions” for everyone else. And the deal certainly falls short of many of the baseline “requirements” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had laid out as necessary points for them to be able to support a deal. They could be a powerful foe in sinking the deal in Congress.

Saudi Arabia, and potentially, the Middle East: These entities don’t always work on the same side of issues surrounding international security, but Saudi and Israel have been in lockstep in their wariness about a deal to bring Iran back into the international fold.

For Saudi Arabia, this is partially about competition: Iran’s petroleum resources aren’t fully developed, but the country’s potential alone poses a serious threat to the influential OPEC giant. The old enemies also pit themselves on opposite sides of Middle East conflicts – most traditionally when there is an obvious Sunni/Shia split, but you can find the Saudi/Iranian divide in nearly every conflict plaguing every unstable Middle Eastern country. If Iran’s allies see their bankroll expand as Iran gets richer, Saudi Arabia will have to decide whether to step up its own patronage, or back down and cede some regional influence. Either way, it’s not an ideal situation for the House of Saud.

Congressional Republicans: They may win the fight in Congress – in fact, let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt: Say that between principled opposition to the deal and political revulsion to the idea of giving Obama a win, Republicans will be able to sustain a vote of no support.

But unless they can cobble together a two-thirds, veto-proof majority in both houses, it won’t do any good. Republicans came out swinging early Tuesday morning – some, like Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), released statements reminding readers of their skepticism and doubts before they’d even read the text. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the deal is “likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world.”

But while such words may not be able to block a deal in the short-term, it’s not just idle bluster. Keeping the deal together in the long term does depend in large part on Iran’s compliance – but it also depends on the U.S. and other negotiators not taking steps to re-implement or increase sanctions so long as Iran is judged to be holding up its end of the bargain. Obama will surely veto any attempts to come down hard on Iran with additional sanctions so long as he is in the White House. But afterwards – well, who knows? The deal has terms that apply for the next 10, 15, and in one instance, even 25 years. Obama’s term lasts another 18 months.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.): The Democratic senator did his best to rally support against an Iran deal, but if he can’t bring a few more Democratic heavyweights to his side, like Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, his crusade won’t hold.

Today Menendez says he’s reviewing the deal — but also warning on MSNBC that it “legitimizes Iran as a threshold nuclear state.” So far, Schumer would only say he’s reviewing the deal while Clinton is calling the agreement “an important step in putting the lid on Iran’s nuclear program.”