A successful nuclear deal between the six powers and Iran would have helped the country develop the capacity to fight the ISIS threat.
Both Iranian and U.S. officials have paid lip service to the significance of the nuclear deal.
The deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement on the future of Iran’s nuclear capability was set for July 20. However, the constant tussle of priorities and the iron hand of diplomacy have undermined the negotiation period. The six world powers – the U.S., Russia, France, China, Germany and Britain – have failed to adopt a concrete policy to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
Despite the growing concern over Iran’s nuclear program, there have been many gridlocks in reaching a compromise. The sticking point is that the key players are making a concerted effort to avoid liability.
Iranian and U.S. officials have paid lip service to the significance of the nuclear deal. Although these press statements reflect the willingness of the negotiating parties to cooperate, they are inevitably a sign of inactivity.
Some of the key players have already made unrealistic demands that have weakened the scope for an agreement.
Recently, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif categorically stated that western powers were playing “a game of chicken” by making last-minute concessions. According to Zarif, the west wants the Iranian people to succumb to pressure and submit to its demands. The Iranian foreign minister insists that the six powers must accept Iran’s proposed nuclear enrichment program. If they fail to do so, Tehran will not assist them in combating militancy in Iran.
At this critical juncture, it is important to break through the political impasse and reach a cohesive solution. The six world powers and Iran have exacerbated the negotiation stage.
Moreover, there is a question of priorities that continues to loom over the nuclear talks. The fundamental motive of striking a deal is to reduce international sanctions on Iran’s economy on the condition that the country does not enhance its nuclear capability. Interestingly, Iran has denied any intention of building a nuclear bomb. There is a growing concern that the talks will follow a similar rhetoric and provide no hope for a tangible solution.
President Barrack Obama has identified the nuclear deal as a major national security priority. However, there are many elements of the agreement which have not been finalized. For instance, the negotiating parties have failed to ascertain the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate to enrich uranium under the deal. Moreover, the overall duration of the agreement remains a mystery and the timetable for the removal of sanctions that have weighed down the Iranian economy have not been chalked out.
Although a six-month extension for the negotiations can be sought under the interim nuclear deal ratified last year, there is no justification for adopting such measures. All the negotiating parties will achieve is more time to defer any form of concrete decision-making and issue empty promises.
The absence of direction is not the only setback that Iran and the six powers are facing. There is domestic pressure on both the Iranian and western officials to develop an agreement that is not entirely lenient. This serves to explain the rather ambitious demands made by the negotiating parties.
The six powers have insisted that Iran should only be permitted to operate a nominal amount of centrifuges to run its power plants. On the other extreme, Iran wishes to operate several centrifuges at its own discretion.
Mired in the constant power tussle, the negotiating parties can lose the capacity to reach a compromise. Eventually the issue may fall prey to diplomatic silence and inaction.
In order to reduce the chances of failure, President Obama sent envoys to strike a deal. Deputy Secretary William J. Burns and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman attended the nuclear talks in Vienna. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined the bandwagon and tried to initiate progress. However, the pace of negotiations has not increased and the deadline has been prolonged.
Under initial agreements, Iran must convert the low-enriched uranium gas into an oxide form that is less suitable for making bombs. It opened a facility in Isfahan for this purpose. But the operations at this facility have yet to begin. Driven by western concerns, Iran has kept its uranium enrichment scheme on the pending tray.
Extending the deadline potentially gives effect to a secret agenda of thwarting Iran’s development potential. More importantly, it comes across as a disguised attempt to buy more time until the crisis can be resolved.
A nuclear deal would have served an important purpose, especially in light of the fast-changing political scenario in the Middle East. The rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, which was previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is producing countless problems for Iran. The IS intends to strengthen its rule by declaring an Islamic caliphate. This may serve as a political and ideological challenge to Iran. According to columnist Mahan Abedin, Iran has the “deepest strategic investment in the region”. By adopting a sectarian rhetoric, the IS is intentionally trying to displace Iran’s strategic interests that have been maintained for over three decades. Iran has struggled to undermine sectarian clashes to sustain its position.
With the surge of Sunni militancy across the border, Iran finds itself in yet another predicament. The country’s primary goal has been to drive out the U.S. and resist Israel’s attempts at sabotage. By recognizing a sectarian conflict, it stands the risk of undermining this purpose. However, silence may be construed as a sign of weakness.
As a result, numerous Iranian residents have shown their support to challenging the IS’s stronghold. Interestingly, Iran has dressed up the skirmish as the secret agenda of the U.S. to destabilize the country’s monopoly. Many supporters have also urged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to issue a religious edict allowing them to fight the IS.
Iran believes that the Islamic State is an attempt by the U.S. to reassert its authority in Iraq. In order to demonstrate their willingness to thwart such attempts, Iranian volunteers have gone to Syria to fight on behalf of the government of President Bashar alAssad. Recently, an Iranian general has become a key tactician in Iraq's fight against Sunni militants.
Unfortunately, Iran’s interference can intensify the sectarian rift. At a time when the U.S. is trying to encourage the Iraqi government to account for the Sunnis, Iran – which has invariably been a Shiite-led state – could be accused of exercising dominance in Iraq. This could escalate tensions and give rise to a wave of militancy.
Had the nuclear deal between the six powers and Iran reached fruition, the resulting agreement would have helped the country develop the capacity to combat the challenges posed by the IS.
Unfortunately, the negotiating parties have erased the nuclear deal from its list of priorities. They are simply buying time to compensate for the lack of progress. If Iran’s suspicion can be relied upon, the nuclear deal may have been scraped to leave the country in a deadlock. As a consequence, it would not be able to respond to the challenges that have plagued the region.