At first glance, the Geneva Accord appears to be unfavorable to Iran
The Geneva Accord between P5+1 (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China plus Germany) and Iran is correctly seen as a success of global diplomacy in the international environment, largely vitiated by the last century’s politics of might is right. Together with progress in the Syrian crisis, it is seen as a welcome change from America’s path of major military interventions like Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been costly both in terms of men and resources. The role played by Russia in diffusing these two crises has also heralded its return to the turbulent global arena that was increasingly becoming a uni-polar world.
At a glance, the Geneva Accord would appear to be unfavorable to Iran which has agreed to enrich uranium to a level of only 5 percent – good enough for power generation but well short of an excess of 80 percent for nuclear weapons and 20 percent for isotopes used in medicine. It would allow regular access to UN inspectors to its top secret plants at Nantaz and Fordow, halt construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak which has a
potential to produce weapon-grade plutonium and provide its design for scrutiny. It will neither construct any new facilities nor develop nextgeneration centrifuges.
In return for these concessions, the West would release Iran’s funds amounting to US$ 7 billions which had been frozen due to U.S.-led sanctions imposed after this crisis erupted. However, most of the US$ 100 billion stuck up since the beginning of the Iranian Revolution will remain unavailable. There will be easing of some sanctions, Iran’s access to its gold and silver reserves, abroad again, permission to sell moderate quantities of oil in the international market and procurement of spares for its crumbling national airline – but no new aircraft yet. There can also be funding for Iranian students abroad.
It is, therefore, not surprising that a faction led by hardline former President, Ahmadinejad has compared the accord to the Treaty of Turkemenchy (1828) in which the Qajar king acceded to the Russian suzerainty vast stretches of what is present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan after General Ivan Paskievich threatened to overrun Tehran in five days.
The accord will be reviewed in six months with a view to hammering out a permanent treaty acceptable to all sides. In the meantime, the deal is likely to have a significant impact on the old global order where Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states had stood to gain from Iranian isolation since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But that may be changing and the prospects of Iran playing a more assertive role in the region are causing anxiety in Middle Eastern capitals.
The most vocal critics of the deal have been Israel and Saudi Arabia which had the geo-political environments in their favor till about six months back. As major U.S. allies in the region, they felt safer as the U.S. spared no occasion to talk of ‘all options’. But the U.S. is now seen
as retracting from that belligerent posture, leaving regional allies to fend for themselves against possible and emerging threats. Israel’s Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu has gone on record as having called the deal a ‘historic mistake’ and Saudi Arabia is quiet after declining the UN Security Council’s seat as a result of its disenchantment with the U.S. over the Syrian crisis.
Saudi Arabia’s regional political rivalry with Iran is also accentuated by their different understanding of the same historical narrative of the Islamic era in the immediate aftermath of the demise of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). One side honors history the way it happened over 14 centuries ago while the other honors history the way it should have happened.
President Obama has warned the critics of the deal to keep their expectations in check since it is not an ideal world. He has put the chances of securing a permanent deal in 2014 at 50-50 at best. The U.S., it seems, would be quite content if Iran can undertake uranium enrichment of up to 5 percent under intense and intrusive international inspections. Different interpretations, however, are already surfacing with some Iranian officials describing the 5 percent ceiling as Iran’s right while the U.S. thinks differently.
Israel has also raised the boogie of Saudi Arabia obtaining a nuclear warhead from Pakistan if Iran violates the accord and at some point breaks out towards weapon-grade uranium enrichment. Israel also alleges that payment for this purpose has already been made. Whatever the truth in this claim, it is hoped that Pakistan does not smear its face black anymore in nuclear proliferation than what has already happened.
Saudi Arabia and Israel had convergence of views against the prospect of a nuclear Iran. But the situation is changing as Israel now faces the dilemma of unsavory
choices between a near-nuclear Iran and a Saudi Arabia on the path to nuclear capability. Such a scenario would bring nuclear weapons even closer to its borders and is, therefore, nightmarish.
For Pakistan, the deal spells a reduction of further turmoil on its western border at a time when there is insufficient clarity about post-2014 Afghanistan. If the deal is affirmed later and a way is paved for lifting UN-sponsored ‘terrorism’-related sanctions against Iran, then U.S. pressure on Pakistan for the PakIran gas pipeline might reduce. It is probably with this prospect in mind that India has once again expressed its desire to participate in the project – more as a spoiler than as a genuine participant.
If the Saudi-Iranian rivalry heats up excessively, Pakistan will be placed in a testing situation where it has always made mistakes in the past – ignoring friendship of the neighbor in the hope of greater dividends from a friend far away. If Pakistan wants to avoid all-around encirclement by states either hostile or less than friendly, it will be its strategic compulsion not to antagonize Iran in dirty global politics.
Apart from Middle Eastern rulers, there is reasonable public support for the deal in the U.S. where the population has become weary of wars. As for Iran, there is hardly any public resentment against the deal for the time being, mainly because it offers some relief from biting sanctions.
Also, Khamenei has called it a ‘heroic flexibility’ and if the spirit of the ‘fatwa’ issued by him, wherein he declared nuclear weapons as ‘haraam’, remains unchanged, there should be good prospects for a permanent accord in a few months.
The writer is a retired vice admiral and former vice chief of naval staff of the Pakistan Navy.