N deal with Iran vital to world

The seven-month extension of talks between Iran and the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany underlines, once again, the importance of concluding a deal over Iran's nuclear programme. Negotiations cannot afford to fail. There are three areas on which the sides did not reach accord: the number of centrifuges Iran can retain for enriching uranium, a timetable for easing the punitive sanctions regime imposed on Iran, and the duration of the deal governing Iran's programme.

Key Western figures said there had been "substantial progress" during the latest round of talks, encouraging them to extend negotiations with the intention of constructing a framework by March and filling in the technical details by the end of June. During this period, Iran is expected to refrain from enriching uranium to a 20 per cent level in exchange for sanctions relief worth $700 million a month.

Tehran has been under pressure to agree to concessions from its own sanctions-ridden population and customers deprived of its oil by sanctions. The US, the dominant power among Iran's interlocutors, has been urged to accept terms that would end 35 years of hostility by Russia, China, European allies and multinational corporations seeking to invest in Iran.

Iran insists on being accorded equal treatment with other countries which signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is prepared to undergo close monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency to show that its intentions are peaceful.

The US and Israel claim Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners fear a nuclear-armed Iran will try to impose its hegemony on West Asia.
Having been ostracised, isolated and sanctioned for three and a half decades by the West at the instigation of the US, Iran is not prepared to accept permanent dependence for fuel on any external power.

While Russia has contracted to provide nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor until 2021, Iran is haggling over centrifuges to produce post-2021 fuel supplies for Bushehr and another four power plants to be built by Russia.

Iran is determined to develop nuclear power plants as alternatives to fossil fuel installations because its oil and gas reserves are finite and nuclear plants are, over time, cheaper than fossil fuel plants.

Exporting high priced oil and gas rather than consuming it, makes sense to Iranian policy-makers.

The extension of negotiations is certain to prompt hardliners in In Tehran, Republican Guard and Basij youth militia commanders have long urged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate decision-maker in the Islamic Republic, to refuse limitations on the programme.
In Washington, the Republican-dominated 114th US Congress is set to fight President Barack Obama tooth-and-nail over any nuclear deal with Iran. Although already a “lameduck” president weakened by the Democratic party’s loss of its Senate majority, Obama could become a “loose cannon,” a president determined to ram through his policies using executive orders.

Treated with disdain and stymied for six years, his spine seems to have stiffened and he appears prepared to do battle for policies which are in the country's interest. After failing to secure Republican bipartisanship, he could adopt unilateralism on key issues.

Obama’s challenges
On the domestic front, Obama challenged Congressional Republicans when he decreed immigration reform that will legalise the status of five million “undocumented” migrants resident in the US, the majority of them from Mexico.

He has made a deal with Iran a major goal of his foreign policy as it could guarantee the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz to eastern and western markets and ensure the oil price is affordable by avoiding crises in the oil producing Gulf region. An accord could also prevent Israel from launching an attack on Iran and promote regional cooperation in efforts to end conflicts in Syria and Iraq which threaten to destabilise West Asia.

While Tehran is seeking early, total lifting of sanctions, there is enough sanctions relief for the time being to show the ruling clerics, the hardliners in the military, and the public that the US and its allies are serious about easing sanctions in phases until they are finally lifted.

The cost of collapse would be high. Iran would be encouraged to step up uranium enrichment until it has reached “break-out,” the threshhold of bomb manufacture. Iran could stir fresh Shia rebellions in Sunni-majority countries and intervene in Afghanistan and Pakistan where the US is trying to contain the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran if it reaches “break-out.” Israeli military strikes on Iranian nuclear and military facilities would, ineluctably, draw in the US, risking regional conflagration at a time Syria and Iraq are already suffering civil conflict, Yemen is gripped by an Iranian-backed Houthi Shia revolt, Egypt is on the brink of economic collapse, and Libya is torn by civil war.

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