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Iran Nuclear Pact: HISTORIC OR A BLUNDER?, By Amrita Banerjee, 22 July, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 22 July 2015

Iran Nuclear Pact

                                                         HISTORIC OR A BLUNDER?

                                                               By Amrita Banerjee

(School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi)


Achievement of a framework between Iran and six world powers (P5+1) to end the Islamic republic’s nuclear weapons programme opens the door to a new era of policy in the Middle East with potentially far-reaching implications. The landmark deal reached in Vienna, after an 18 day marathon negotiations, among China, Russia, France, Great Britain, Germany and the US offers Iran more than $110bn a year in sanctions relief and a return to the global economy in exchange for halting its drive for a nuclear weapon.


The conclusion of the deal has been described as path breaking or a historic mistake, depending where these voices are coming from. Calling it a diplomatic victory, US President Barrack Obama stated ‘every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off’ as far as Iran is concerned. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani too characterised the deal as ‘historic’ unleashing a ‘new chapter’ between Iran and the world. However, rejecting it outright, Israeli Prime Minister called it ‘a historic mistake’ and Saudi Arabia is yet to come out with a clear response.


The deal has evoked a mixed response especially in the US and Iran who had been tied in an acrimonious relationship with each other since the 1979 Revolution. Firstly, this deal in American domestic front faces opposition from Republicans who control majority in both the House and Senate. Its historic ally in the Middle East, Israel has called it a bad deal that would endanger it, the Middle East and world peace. In this regard, Washington has an important role in hand in future, i.e. to demonstrate to Arab allies -- particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that it is prepared to be a reliable partner and counter Iranian involvement in the region.


Secondly, Tehran’s response to this deal has also been varied. There is no doubt in the fact that the sanctions relief in the deal has given President Rouhani a major domestic win that may in future translate to more political reforms, better Iranian behaviour on the world stage and most likely win him a second term in 2017. However, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and many conservatives see the nuclear talks as an ‘American plan' to influence domestic politics and manage its nuclear programme. Rouhani has also been facing ire from Iranian media outlets which highlight his declining popularity in a recent poll and the fact that 90 per cent of Iranians do not trust the US government in negotiations with their country, though in general they still support the idea of talks. The fragile condition of Iran’s economy is yet another point of tension for him.


Thirdly, this agreement has evoked responses from different world leaders as well. Apart from Rouhani and Obama, one of the main gainers from this deal has been Bashar al-Assad who has hailed the agreement as a ‘major turning point’ in the history of Iran, the region and the world. This support comes because Tehran’s enhanced regional position in the wake of the deal will strengthen its demands for recognition as a key player in the Middle East, including in any negotiations about the future of Syria.


The other gainer is Russian President Vladimir Putin who said that the lifting of sanctions against Iran could make the easing of western sanctions against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis more likely. An eventual end to the arms embargo against Iran would also boost Russia’s arms industry.


The losers in the deal seem to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, against whom Tehran has vowed to fight. The other is the Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz who strongly disliked Iran’s role in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, where the Saudis attack the Houthi rebels who are backed by Tehran. The last is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who not only failed to stop this deal but also caused serious damage to Israel’s prized strategic relationship with Washington.


Winning and losing can be a micro analysis of the situation at hand. A more holistic analysis reveals that the deal is about each side compromising but still reaching important objectives. For the first time, Iran gets international recognition of its enrichment of uranium for civil purposes. That legitimacy also brings the prospect of re-opened trade and investment links, vital for an economy that has been crippled by sanctions and mismanagement over the past decade.


The US and the other powers got defined limits on that enriched uranium. Thus, Iran has been pushed far back from a militarised programme for many years, even if it really was seeking nuclear weapons in the first place. It no longer has any 20% uranium in a form that can be developed for a bomb, and even its 5% uranium is sharply reduced.


Its nuclear facilities, including enrichment plants and a proposed heavy-water nuclear reactor, are under an extensive and tightly defined system of inspections. Some of its military sites will be visited to ensure that no traces of any past quest for nuclear weapons remain. Iran will finally adhere to the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


On the other side, there are certain apprehensions that have also been raised in the 159 page document. It is about allowing Iran to keep 5,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz, and another 1,000 centrifuges at its underground enrichment facility in Fordow wherein research and development facilities would also be available. From the information available, it also remains unclear whether the nuclear agreement will take effect for 10 or for 15 years. Another question mark surrounds the issue of sanctions as to whether they would be gradually lifted, or removed in one stroke.


Even though a deal has been struck, it remains to be seen how effective its implementation will be amidst a quagmire of serious issues pertaining to Iraq, Yemen and Syria. In Iraq, Tehran is still an important backer of the Iraqi Government and Shia militias fighting Islamic State. In Yemen, the Iranians continue to give political and economic aid to the Houthi movement which is challenged by the Saudis.


The Islamic Republic also continues to shout loudly about Palestine and the need to defeat Israel. And in Syria, Iran has been vital in propping up the Assad regime in the four-year conflict, and with the release of economic pressure under the nuclear agreement, it could bolster that support. Also, the Iranian nuclear issue is certainly a conundrum. Repeated Iranian failures to comply with commitments do not give any confidence that Iran is going to stick by its commitments this time around.


In this regard, there are already serious reservations, particularly within the Middle East about the nature of the deal and its efficacy in limiting the Iranian nuclear activities. Lack of compliance by Tehran could compound the anxieties and lead to developments that are not ideal for the region and for the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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