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?
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.