(Persia Digest) - Barack Obama’s chief negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal has questioned whether the Morrison government’s review of its support for the agreement can find any better way to stop the country building an atomic bomb.
The Sydney Morning Herald writes that another key former US official has gone even further, warning a withdrawal of support by Australia could help embolden Iranian hardliners to back out of their country’s own commitments and adding he would "hate to see Australia make the same error" as US President Donald Trump by ditching the deal.
Wendy Sherman, the US diplomat who led six rounds of talks with Iran over four years, urged Australia to assess its own security interests, talk to allies and partners and “really look at the alternatives and see whether there’s a concerted strategy that would work better”.
“Right now I see the absence of a strategy, not so much a strategy that will get to some better place,” she told Fairfax Media.
As international criticism of the government's mooted shift on Middle East policy continued to reverberate, Ms Sherman maintained the agreement was meeting its central goal of preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance - though critics including the Israeli government say the agency has failed to properly scrutinise the nuclear program.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he would review Australia’s support for the deal four days ahead of today’s Wentworth byelection. The move is popular with Jewish people, who make up about 12.5 percent of Wentworth. As well as the Iran decision, Mr Morrison also announced Australia would consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Ms Sherman said any new government was entitled to review policies but doubted whether the Coalition would find anything better than the nuclear deal international negotiators spent years painstakingly crafting.
Mr Obama’s then secretary of state John Kerry, along with the counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, signed the deal with Iran in 2015, putting restrictions on the country’s ability to get fissile material for a weapon for at least 10 years in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Ms Sherman said the Trump administration had pulled out without having a better plan with which to replace it - a view shared by Mr Trump’s own respected Defence Secretary James Mattis.
Richard Nephew, who was the lead American sanctions expert on the negotiating team, said the Trump administration had made it hard for other countries to support the US position because the President had pulled out of a deal that Iran was complying with.
“I would hate to see Australia make the same error,” he said.
Mr Nephew, now at the Columbia University’s Centre on Global Energy Policy, said any reimposition of sanctions by Australia would have little effect on Iran’s economy.
“But to the extent this contributes to Iran's sense that things are going against it, then this move might give some in Iran the argument - and many in Iran the inclination - to back out of their commitments since the world's aligned against it. That would not be terribly helpful,” he said.
It remains unclear how the Morrison government’s review will work. Detailed questions sent by Fairfax Media on Thursday morning - including whether a policy change would mean a resumption of Australian economic sanctions - remained unanswered on Friday afternoon.
Ms Sherman, who is now a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group consultancy, said there is no indication that reimposing sanctions would drag Iran back to the negotiating table.
While she accepted that broader Iranian behaviour such as support for terrorist groups in the Middle East was “very concerning”, the removal of a nuclear capability took away its greatest leverage.
Along with the Trump administration, the other major opponent of the Iran deal has been Israel, which has been threatened with destruction by Tehran and believes the deal is too weak.
Israel’s ambassador Mark Sofer said Israeli intelligence had shown “day in and day out that the Iranian regime has lied and has cheated" on its nuclear program.
“They are still continuing to hide nuclear facilities. They are still continuing to build nuclear facilities. You have to look at it from our point of view ... They are striving for nuclear weaponry on the one hand and the eradication of the state of Israel on the other hand … And there’s no way of course that we’re going to sit around idly and watch it," he said.
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