The Big Leap

Iran’s ac­tiv­i­ties on the nu­clear front may be curbed by the deal it has signed with the west­ern na­tions but will it lead to wa­ter­ing down its re­gional role?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taha Ke­har

Af­ter sev­eral grid­locks and diplo­matic pauses, the nu­clear talks be­tween Iran and the six pow­ers have yielded some suc­cess. On April 2, 2015, the United States and other ma­jor pow­ers an­nounced that they had reached a suit­able frame­work for an agree­ment in this re­gard.

Un­der the frame­work agree­ment which was reached in Lau­sanne, Iran has vowed to dras­ti­cally curb its nu­clear pro­gramme in ex­change for the lift­ing of sanc­tions. The move has been billed as a de­ci­sive step in the right di­rec­tion. For lit­tle over a year, the ne­go­ti­a­tion process had be­come a stick­ing point to progress. De­spite in­ten­sive bar­gain­ing and com­pro­mises, the nu­clear talks had failed to achieve the de­sired im­pact. As a re­sult, even a small step ap­pears as a gi­ant leap to­wards progress and sta­bil­ity.

The frame­work agree­ment trig­gered a wave of ex­cite­ment on the streets of Iran. An­a­lysts wel­comed the move as a harbinger of demo­cratic change. Ak­bar Ganji, an Ira­nian jour­nal­ist who was pre­vi­ously jailed for his out­spo­ken views, billed the frame­work as a victory that will in­fuse demo­cratic prin­ci­ples in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

How­ever, the sense of op­ti­mism and zeal sur­round­ing the victory grad­u­ally be­gan to lose ground. Fact sheets is­sued by the six pow­ers and Iran re­gard­ing the frame­work agree­ment were, at best, con­tra­dic­tory. It ap­peared as if all par­ties were try­ing to put for­ward their own in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the agree­ment to lever­age their po­si­tion in the ne­go­ti­a­tion process.

There are sig­nif­i­cant dis­crep­an­cies be­tween the fact sheets is­sued by the US and Iran. For in­stance, both doc­u­ments of­fer glar­ing dif­fer­ences in the num­ber of cen­trifuges which can op­er­ate in the coun­try. The time­frame of the agree­ment also varies in th­ese doc­u­ments. More­over, Iran’s fact sheet claims there will be an im­me­di­ate end to all sanc­tions from the US and the Euro­pean Union and to UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions.

Faced with th­ese chal­lenges, it is dif­fi­cult to as­sume that the nu­clear agree­ment will reach fruition. To the con­trary, the deal is likely to re­main a pipedream un­til all stake­hold­ers find them­selves on the same page.

Although the fu­ture of the deal still re­mains a moot point, it has been used as a bar­gain­ing chip to al­ter the bal­ance of power in the Mid­dle East.

Since it has led to the lift­ing of sanc­tions which had dealt a crit­i­cal and con­tin­u­ous blow to Iran’s econ­omy, the frame­work is a piv­otal achieve­ment in the coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy. More im­por­tantly, Iran will no longer re­main a pariah in the diplo­matic sphere. Pres­i­dent Rowhani has wel­comed the move as a new chap­ter in the coun­try’s

mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion with the world.

On the other hand, an­other battle ap­pears to be brew­ing in Iran’s backyard. Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu has ve­he­mently crit­i­cized the pre­lim­i­nary deal as it could heighten Iran’s ag­gres­sion through­out the Mid­dle East and threaten the sovereignty of the Jewish State.

Driven by the in­stinct of self­p­reser­va­tion, Ne­tanyahu has de­cided to in­clude the con­di­tional ac­cep­tance of Is­rael’s right to ex­ist as part of the agree­ment. How­ever, lit­tle has been done to push this de­mand for­ward as it could be deemed con­tro­ver­sial.

At the same time, the grow­ing in­sur­gency in Ye­men has once again put the spot­light on Iran and its frag­ile ties with the US. In early April, the US rep­ri­manded Iran for di­rectly sup­port­ing the Houthi rebels in Ye­men. US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry in­sists he has ev­i­dence to sub­stan­ti­ate this claim and has warned Iran to stop aid­ing the rebels.

Since the US is an ally of Saudi Ara­bia, the warn­ing comes with an ad­di­tional penalty of be­ing os­tra­cized by the Mus­lim world. Nev­er­the­less, Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei has tren­chantly crit­i­cized Saudi Ara­bia’s ac­tion in Ye­men as the brain­child of an im­ma­ture lead­er­ship. Over time, th­ese crit­i­cal re­marks have turned into por­tents of dooms. As the sec­tar­ian con­flict in Ye­men sharp­ens to a flash­point, the com­man­der of Iran’s ground forces has urged the Saudis to stop the bomb­ing raids lest it cre­ate un­cer­tainty in Riyadh.

Mean­while, Pres­i­dent Obama has made con­sis­tent ef­forts to en­sure that pri­or­ity is given to the nu­clear deal and the on­go­ing ten­sions in Ye­men. He has in­vited the heads of the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil coun­tries to the White House to de­lib­er­ate th­ese is­sues in a holis­tic man­ner.

The meet­ing also aims to high­light how a nu­clear deal with Iran will re­duce the chances of war­fare in the Mid­dle East. At this crit­i­cal junc­ture, a large num­ber of Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries are not con­vinced about whether Iran will ad­here to the nu­clear deal. Amid grow­ing un­cer­tainty, the US pres­i­dent wants to re­as­sure lead­ers that if Iran’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties are re­duced, peace and sta­bil­ity will re­turn to the re­gion.

This could serve as a dou­bled­edged sword which could ei­ther make or break Iran’s fate in the Mid­dle East.

How­ever, skep­tics be­lieve Iran could also be the ar­chi­tect of its own de­struc­tion. Once all sanc­tions are re­moved, the coun­try is likely to gain $100 mil­lion in un­frozen funds. A large frac­tion of this money will un­doubt­edly go to its re­gional part­ners who might use it to fund and train ter­ror­ist in the re­gion. Th­ese part­ners in­clude the As­sad regime in Syria and the Shialed gov­ern­ment in Iraq that rely on Iran for sup­port. In a sim­i­lar vein, the coun­try might also at­tempt to thwart the in­flu­ence of all those Arab states which have al­lied with the US.

Un­for­tu­nately, the frame­work deal does not of­fer spe­cific pro­vi­sions to weaken Iran’s con­trol. For in­stance, it does not curb the coun­try from con­duct­ing re­search on de­vel­op­ing faster and more ef­fec­tive cen­trifuges. Se­condly, it does not present an ap­pro­pri­ate mech­a­nism to mon­i­tor Iran’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

The frame­work deal serves as wel­come proof that a suit­able means of curb­ing Iran’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties can be achieved. How­ever, a vi­able so­lu­tion can only be achieved through time, in­tro­spec­tion and be­lief. Un­til then, the frame­work will con­tinue to be used as a pre­text to pit Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries against one an­other.

The writer is a poet and au­thor. He is a law grad­u­ate of SOAS.

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