Make it work

A nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, will take effect on January 20.

It signals the success of diplomacy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme. Till recently, the dominant approach, especially of the US, was confrontationist and involved threats to get Iran to toe Washington’s line. The agreement, however, is based on a compromise approach that accommodates concerns of Iran and much of the international community. Under the agreement, Iran has undertaken to halt enrichment of uranium above 5 per cent purity and to ‘neutralise’ its stockpile of near 20 per cent enriched uranium over the next six months. Besides, international monitors will have daily access to some of Iran’s nuclear facilities. In return, it will regain access to billions of dollars in frozen assets and some relief from sanctions in stages. Thus, while Iran will be able to pursue a nuclear energy programme, building weapons is ruled out. The lifting of sanctions will provide some relief to the Iranian people.

The deal is an interim one. However, it provides a basis for finalising a more comprehensive agreement.  While talks leading to that agreement are likely to be more complex, negotiators can draw inspiration from their engagement in recent months. Even six months ago, few would have thought that a negotiated agreement between the US and Iran was possible. But before work on a final deal begins, its proponents must redouble efforts to ensure the interim agreement’s survival and success. Israel and Saudi Arabia are lobbying intensely with Washington to scuttle it. More worrying is the opposition president Barack Obama faces from within. A sizeable number of Democrat senators are reportedly joining hands with Republicans to introduce a bill slapping fresh sanctions on Iran. Although Obama has promised to veto new sanctions, he could be overridden in the Senate. A showdown looms.

It is important that both the US and Iran do not allow their differences over other issues to impact the nuclear negotiations. They are on opposite sides in Syria, for instance, with Iran backing president Bashar al-Assad’s government and the US providing support to the rebels. The nuclear issue is a tangled one as it is and could get more complicated should they allow bitterness on other matters to spill over to the nuclear talks table.

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