The Deal and Af­ter

Sanc­tions lifted, Iran can now look for­ward to a new era of progress.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Muham­mad Ali Eh­san

Iran is back in the good books of western pow­ers.

The U.S. and Euro­pean Union sanc­tions on Tehran were fi­nally lifted on Satur­day, Jan 16, 2016, restor­ing Iran's ac­cess to world mar­kets. The coun­try had been gear­ing up for this mo­ment for months. It was ex­pected that Iran would soon re­turn to the top ranks of global oil pro­duc­ers.

In July 2015, Iran signed a nu­clear deal with six world pow­ers which meant that Iran would curb its nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties and would thus cir­cum­vent and evade the eco­nomic sanc­tions that had crip­pled its econ­omy.

The nu­clear agree­ment bound Iran to com­ply with cer­tain ac­tions. It agreed to turn its For­dov fa­cil­ity into a re­search cen­ter where world sci­en­tists would work side by side with Ira­nian sci­en­tists. For­dov had for many years been the fo­cus of world at­ten­tion as a fa­cil­ity where Iran was al­leged to be en­rich­ing weapons-grade ura­nium. Ac­cord­ing to the deal, Iran has also agreed to re­build its Arak heavy wa­ter re­ac­tor us­ing a de­sign ap­proved by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity which would make the pro­duc­tion of weapons grade plutonium an im­pos­si­bil­ity. Most im­por­tantly, Iran agreed to give up most of its cen­trifuges which were used to en­rich ura­nium. It would bring down their num­bers from 20,000 to 6104.

Iran scaled back its nu­clear pro­gram at a pace that far ex­ceeded world ex­pec­ta­tions. This cre­ated Ira­nian ac­cess to around $100 bil­lion in Ira­nian oil rev­enue that was be­ing held un­der the UN sanc­tions. The IAEA sub­mit­ted a pos­i­tive re­port to the UN on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Iran deal.

What would a post-sanc­tions Iran mean to the world and es­pe­cially to Saudi Ara­bia, its arch re­gional ri­val? This is a coun­try which finds it­self on the wrong side of Iran af­ter the ex­e­cu­tion of Sheikh al-Nimr, a prom­i­nent Shia leader who was in­flu­en­tial in Saudi Ara­bia’s east­ern provinces.

The ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries grad­u­ally mounted with pro­test­ers storm­ing the Saudi Em­bassy in Iran and the Saudi King­dom an­nounc­ing the cut­ting of ties with Iran.

The lift­ing of eco­nomic sanc­tions against Iran is be­ing viewed as a dan­ger­ous sign by Saudi Ara­bia and many coun­tries around the Per­sian Gulf and Jor­dan. Iran al­ready en­joys and ex­er­cises im­mense in­flu­ence in coun­tries like Iraq, Le­banon, Pales­tine and Ye­men. It is ac­cused by Saudi Ara­bia for us­ing sub­ver­sive and ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties to en­large and ex­tend its con­trol over th­ese coun­tries. Saudi Ara­bia sees it­self as the stan­dard bearer of Sunni Is­lam whereas Iran re­gards it­self as the de­fender and pro­tec­tor of Shia Mus­lims ev­ery­where in the world. The ac­ri­mony be­tween the two coun­tries is his­toric and thus mil­i­tary, political or eco­nomic gains by one are con­sid­ered as a loss by

the other. The sec­tar­ian bat­tle lines are the fun­da­men­tal fault lines that have marred the re­la­tion­ship of the two coun­tries over the years and have been the ma­jor cause of the over­all desta­bi­liza­tion in the Middle East.

To­day both Saudi Ara­bia and Iran stand at an im­por­tant cross­road be­tween their re­la­tions. On one side is the Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani who got elected in 2013 elec­tions on a man­date that he would open up his coun­try to the out­side world, re­vive the econ­omy and bring in the much needed so­cial re­forms. On the other side is Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man who as­cended the Saudi throne just re­cently and has al­ready shown signs of be­ing a tough ruler, given his mil­i­tary ad­ven­ture in Ye­men and the ex­e­cu­tions of Shia Mus­lims in the Saudi King­dom. Both the coun­tries con­tinue to fight a proxy war in Syria – their main bat­tle­ground with non-state ac­tors spon­sored and sup­ported by both sides to seek political and mil­i­tary ends.

Iran con­sid­ers Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad as its most im­por­tant Arab ally. Pres­i­dent Asaad is an Alaw­ite which is an off­shoot of Shia Is­lam. The Saudis on the other hand sub­scribe to the claim that Sun­nis are in a ma­jor­ity in Syria and should have the right to rule their coun­try. Both are at log­ger­heads and their poli­cies take an en­tirely dif­fer­ent tra­jec­tory and di­rec­tion. This only con­trib­utes to the grow­ing desta­bi­liza­tion in Syria. Saudi Ara­bia is a part­ner in the US-led coali­tion that fights the war in Syria and views with sus­pi­cion the logic of lift­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions against Iran.

Ac­cord­ing to an as­sess­ment, Saudi Ara­bia is the world’s largest oil ex­porter and could cut down its oil pro­duc­tion to try and push up oil prices that have fallen below $40 a bar­rel. But its oil pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues to re­main high as an­a­lysts find the Saudi strat­egy is in an­tic­i­pa­tion of lift­ing of eco­nomic sanc­tions against Iran. The Saudis never wanted Iran to make a come­back in the short term as a ma­jor com­peti­tor and player in the world oil mar­ket. Bet­ting on their big cash re­serves, the Saudis are an­tic­i­pat­ing to hold on longer and re­tain their mar­ket share. In any case, oil pro­duc­tion due to the Saudi-Ira­nian ri­valry is likely to re­main high and oil prices will con­tinue to re­main low – a wel­come strat­egy for the Ira­ni­ans who are bank­ing on their oil in­dus­try to make an eco­nomic come­back.

Iran con­tin­ues to demon­strate mil­i­tary bravado. One el­e­ment of this is its on­go­ing bal­lis­tic mis­siles tests which it claims do not come un­der the purview of the nu­clear deal. This in­fu­ri­ates Is­rael, a long time op­po­nent of Iran and a coun­try that does not ac­cept the world view of a nu­clear deal with Iran. It terms it as a bad deal as it does not en­sure the com­plete dis­man­tling of the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram.

The ris­ing Saudi in­se­cu­rity also means in­creased busi­ness for the US mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex. Saudi Ara­bia has re­cently signed a $1 bil­lion de­fence deal with the US for pri­mar­ily ac­quir­ing mis­siles for the US sup­plied F-15 fighter jets. The US con­tin­ues to sell bil­lions of dol­lars of weapons and am­mu­ni­tion to Saudi Ara­bia. With Iran get­ting ready to flex its mil­i­tary mus­cle af­ter the lift­ing of the UN im­posed eco­nomic sanc­tions, the re­gion may also see in­creased mil­i­ta­riza­tion and en­hanced mil­i­tary bud­gets - all at the cost of so­cial de­vel­op­ment and the much needed re­forms that should lib­er­al­ize so­ci­eties and re­duce rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

Saudi Ara­bia has grudg­ingly ac­cepted the nu­clear deal that the six pow­ers have signed with Iran. Go­ing by the Saudi per­spec­tive, Iran will have en­hanced abil­ity in the short term to im­prove its eco­nomic and mil­i­tary stand­ing and in the long term it will con­tinue to re­tain its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity. In re­al­ity, the world, led by the US, has been able to dif­fuse a likely con­fronta­tion­ist sit­u­a­tion where Is­rael was con­tem­plat­ing a uni­lat­eral mil­i­tary ac­tion to strike down the Ira­nian nu­clear fa­cil­ity. With Iran not shy­ing away and show­ing will­ing­ness to give a be­fit­ting re­sponse to mil­i­tary ad­ven­tur­ism by Is­rael, what the six world pow­ers have at­tained by get­ting the Ira­ni­ans to sign the nu­clear deal is to avoid a mil­i­tary flash­point that had all the signs of turn­ing very ugly and harm­ful for over­all world peace.

Iran con­tin­ues to main­tain its tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties to main­tain and run its nu­clear pro­gram and this is a win-win sit­u­a­tion for the coun­try. How­ever, it is hoped that Iran will grab this op­por­tu­nity with both hands to re-di­rect its nu­clear abil­ity to­wards civil­ian use and uti­lize its nu­clear pro­gram for cre­ation of en­ergy to boost its econ­omy and also to pro­vide the much-needed elec­tric­ity to the en­ergy- starved north­ern and east­ern sec­tors of its coun­try.

The world may also use its diplo­matic in­flu­ence to re­duce grow­ing ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran. The pos­si­bil­ity of such an even­tu­al­ity be­tween the arch ri­vals is weak but if the world shows a com­mit­ted de­sire we may in the long run see both Iran and Saudi Ara­bia bury­ing the hatchet and mak­ing a new be­gin­ning for a new re­la­tion­ship based on mu­tual de­pen­dence and trust.

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