Crit­i­cal Times

A suc­cess­ful nu­clear deal between the six pow­ers and Iran would have helped the coun­try de­velop the ca­pac­ity to fight the ISIS threat.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taha Ke­har

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.

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