A welcome breakthrough has been achieved in the decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Negotiations between Iran on the one hand and the P5+1 (US, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany) on the other have culminated in a landmark agreement, which provides Iran with some relief from economic sanctions in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear activities. The P5+1 have agreed not to impose fresh nuclear-related sanctions on Iran for six months.† Restrictions on Iran’s export of oil and other commodities will be suspended, bringing Iran’s cash-strapped economy revenue to the tune of $1.5 billion. Iran has committed to several restrictions on its nuclear programme. Without saying so in so many words, it has agreed to give up its nuclear weapons programme, if it existed at all. For instance, it has agreed to halt uranium enrichment above 5 per cent purity and to neutralise its stockpile of near-20 per cent uranium, which in effect will prevent it from building nuclear weapons. Tehran has agreed to allow increased access to IAEA inspectors.
While the agreement provides reason for satisfaction, it is too early to celebrate. It is only the first step towards rapprochement and there are many actors in the imbroglio who will seek to undermine the deal. Western analysts have raised questions whether Iran’s hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei will endorse an agreement that was the initiative of the country’s recently elected, moderate president, Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammed Zarif. They have warned that Khamanei, who has the final say on nuclear issues, will oppose the deal. However, this is a flawed reading of Iran. After all, Khamanei authorized the foreign ministry to engage in nuclear talks. There are doubts too whether US President Barack Obama will be able to override opposition from the powerful anti-Iran lobby in the US establishment. Israel and Saudi Arabia too will pressure Washington to rescind from the agreement.
The success of the agreement will depend on the extent to which the signatories are able to work together. They need to realise that their co-operation is essential if only to fight off the deal’s powerful opponents. While trust will be hard to come by given the decades of mutual suspicion, they will have to summon this if the deal is to succeed. As a first step, name calling and finger pointing, which has defined the US’ approach to Iran for almost 35 years, must end. Importantly, the world must treat Iran fairly. It has a right to nuclear energy and that must be accepted.