International headlines have been dominated recently with news of the agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany). Iran committed to curbing its nuclear activities to a certain extent and in turn, will receive some relief from sanctions. This is not a treaty in itself but an initial step towards negotiating one in six months.
In the meantime, Iran has to fulfil the following requirements: stop enriching uranium over five per cent, freeze its stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 3.5 per cent and neutralise its stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to near 20 per cent. All construction and updating of centrifuges has to stop and Iran has agreed to halt development of its nuclear reactor at Arak for six months. This reactor is capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. To verify compliance, the deal allows wide-scale detailed inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and even daily examinations of the enrichment facilities.
In response, the P5+1 countries will free up some of Iran’s frozen foreign assets worth about $6 billion. However, the iron-handed sanctions crushing Iran’s economy will remain in place and were not addressed by this agreement. These issues will probably be discussed during the upcoming comprehensive treaty negotiations. Iran could face dismantling of its nuclear programme in order for a complete removal of sanctions by the Western countries.
This start to a peaceful resolution isn’t sitting well with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and US Republicans. They insist on a complete denuclearisation of Iran and the imposition of a ban preventing Iran from enriching uranium before any negotiations take place. These diehards refuse to acknowledge that the Non- Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory, allows the right to ‘peaceful nuclear energy’, which requires some level of uranium enrichment.
Despite President Obama’s reassurances, the Israelis feel threatened by the deal and the possibility of a total US withdrawal from the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Arab world has been suspicious about the agreement with the exception of Iran’s allies, Syria and Iraq, which have both praised it. Saudi Arabia feels betrayed by its ally, the US, since the Iranian talks had been kept secret from it. Likewise, Iran’s neighbours are worried that the US-Iran deal will cause them harm and have sought assurances that the outcome will indeed achieve regional security.
This agreement is just the latest sign of a historic and significant shift in how the Western powers are seeking peaceful resolutions in the Middle East. Following an era of sanctions, threats and misguided military campaigns, diplomacy is finally being considered as the best option for moving forward. Even though Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin were on center stage, it was intense pressure from the British and US citizens to avoid unnecessary conflicts, which prevented their politicians from approving military action in Syria in September this year. Now, the US and Iran have come together for their first talks since 1979. The public has become weary of war after the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan and it appears the politicians are finally paying heed.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2013.