Iran’s nu­clear deal

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The frame­work nu­clear agree­ment con­cluded on April 2 in Lau­sanne be­tween the six world pow­ers (USA, Rus­sia, China, UK France and Ger­many) and Iran was wel­comed as a tri­umph of diplo­macy.

Iran’s Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, greet­ing the an­nounce­ment of the ac­cord, said that it was just the first step to­wards build­ing a new re­la­tion­ship with the world. “Some think that we must ei­ther fight the world or sur­ren­der to world pow­ers. We say, we can have co­op­er­a­tion with the world,” he said. For US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama it was a “his­toric un­der­stand­ing”, although some cir­cles in the US cau­tioned that hard work lies ahead be­fore a fi­nal deal is struck by the dead­line of June 30.

The fact re­mains, how­ever, that the deal marks the most im­por­tant step to­wards rap­proche­ment be­tween Iran and the US since the 1979 Ira­nian revo­lu­tion, with far reach­ing con­se­quences in the wider re­gion of the Mid­dle East.

For the Euro­peans, ne­go­ti­a­tions went in the right di­rec­tion. For them, Iran was not part of “an axis of evil” as branded by Ge­orge W Bush, and their ap­proach was to seek re­li­able as­sur­ances that Iran would never de­velop a nu­clear weapon. Key EU mem­bers – the UK, Ger­many and France – who were en­gaged in talks with Iran for more than a decade, in­sisted on diplo­macy and their ap­proach has been vin­di­cated.

The Euro­peans’ will­ing­ness to move ahead is eas­ily un­der­stood. Lift­ing sanc­tions will be more to their ben­e­fit and in the short term, Ira­nian oil ex­ports will keep prices low.

Apart from the eco­nomic gains, there are po­lit­i­cal benefits as they will be able to ex­er­cise pres­sure on Rus­sia, not only in the eco­nomic field but also in con­nec­tion with its Ukrainian pol­icy. In the long term, pre­vent­ing the fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion will ben­e­fit the Euro­peans more than the US. More­over, lift­ing the sanc­tions will open up Ira­nian mar­kets to the Euro­peans who will be more favoured than the Amer­i­cans, who be­fore the Ira­nian revo­lu­tion en­joyed near ex­clu­siv­ity in the Ira­nian mar­ket.

Count­ing on Repub­li­cans who con­trol the US Congress for sup­port, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu re­acted strongly against the deal, declar­ing that it could lead to nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion and even his coun­try’s de­struc­tion. He asked the ne­go­ti­at­ing pow­ers to add a new de­mand that Iran recog­nise Is­rael’s right to ex­ist. In con­trast, Saudi Ara­bia was more cau­tious in its re­ac­tion, although it could not con­ceal – nor could other Arab states – its con­cern about a deal that will ben­e­fit Iran. It will cer­tainly strengthen Iran’s in­flu­ence in Iraq, Syria and Ye­men against which Saudi Ara­bia re­cently launched a bomb­ing cam­paign.

What prompted Iran to seek a deal on its nu­clear pro­gramme? Was it its po­lit­i­cal iso­la­tion and eco­nomic hard­ships, or the need for a more ac­tive re­gional role? The an­swer lies in Iran’s de­sire to make sure that its nu­clear pro­gramme is ex­clu­sively peace­ful, to end its de­mon­i­sa­tion and fi­nally get closer to its Arab neigh­bours. For two cen­turies, Iran has not in­vaded any coun­try and stands against for­eign oc­cu­pa­tion as it did in Afghanistan, Le­banon and Kuwait.

The nu­clear deal still re­quires ex­perts to work out the de­tails, in which the devil lies, prompt­ing some pes­simists to be­lieve that it could still col­lapse.

The ques­tion of lift­ing the sanc­tions, which re­duced Iran’s oil ex­ports by 60%, is the most dif­fi­cult. Iran’s firm po­si­tion is that all sanc­tions must be lifted at the same time as any fi­nal agree­ment is con­cluded. Th­ese in­clude UN, US and EU nu­clear-re­lated eco­nomic sanc­tions. This in­sis­tence re­flects Iran’s lack of con­fi­dence in the West, in view of pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences. The US po­si­tion is that sanc­tions against Iran would be re­moved grad­u­ally. A com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor is that Pres­i­dent Obama was forced to give Congress a say in any fu­ture ac­cord, in­clud­ing the right to veto the lift­ing of sanc­tions.

That brings us to the sec­ond dif­fi­culty: a pos­si­ble change of hearts. The US and Iran have to sell the deal to skep­ti­cal con­ser­va­tives at home. In the US, Pres­i­dent Obama will have to face Congress, con­trolled by the Repub­li­cans. In Iran, the Supreme Leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei in re­marks ap­par­ently meant to keep hard­lin­ers happy, said “I nei­ther sup­port nor op­pose the deal.” Pos­si­bly, this state­ment aims at strength­en­ing the Ira­nian ne­go­ti­at­ing team.

An­other prob­lem is whether the par­ties will live up to the let­ter and spirit of the agree­ment. Al­ready dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions have emerged over what was agreed in the frame­work, sug­gest­ing that reach­ing a fi­nal ac­cord will be a tough job. In this re­spect, France recog­nised the need to have a mech­a­nism to re­store sanc­tions in case of vi­o­la­tions. Last but not least is the con­cern about Iran’s for­eign and de­fence poli­cies in terms of its mis­sile pro­gramme and in­volve­ment in the re­gion. Rus­sia’s de­ci­sion to lift the em­bargo and de­liver the S-300 mis­sile sys­tem to Iran is a timely ex­am­ple. In any case, Iran’s stand was ex­plic­itly ex­plained by the Supreme Leader who said that “Iran’s mil­i­tary sites can­not be in­spected un­der the ex­cuse of nu­clear su­per­vi­sion”, as it is pro­vided in the NPT.

The benefits of a fi­nal deal, how­ever, are huge. It would cre­ate job op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­vest­ments and devel­op­ment lo­cally. It would en­hance peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion, and it would strengthen the hands of those who fight Sunni ex­trem­ism in the form of the Is­lamic State.

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