As has been highly publicised, Iran is in the midst of negotiations regarding its nuclear programme with six world powers: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, leads the group of the six countries, and is aiming to reach a deal within half a year. The previously agreed to interim agreement ends on July 20. Under this deal, Iran has frozen its nuclear programme in return for some sanctions relief. Meetings have been planned over the next four months; the six-month deal can also be extended if agreeable to both sides.
Conversely, stipulations from both sides might make a final settlement impossible. The US is insisting that parts of Iran’s nuclear programme will have to be dismantled in order to reach a final deal. It wants Iran’s heavy-water reactor project, nuclear military research and ballistic missile programme on the table. Last year, in Geneva, both Iran and the US had agreed upon a joint plan of action which included these issues. Iran however, has stated that only their nuclear programme is up for discussion, not their military. Iran also made it clear that dismantling of any part of its nuclear structure is not up for discussion and that it maintains the right to modernise the programme.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to allow Iran a civilian nuclear programme but prevent it from building a nuclear weapon. Hence, Iran will have to agree to certain checks and balances, such as limits to the level of enrichment and stockpiles of enriched uranium. Dismantling of centrifuges and possibly the heavy-water reactor, which produces plutonium, will also be on the list along with allowing thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
A report released by the IAEA indicated that Iran was meeting the requirements agreed upon under the six-month deal. According to the report, Iran was down-blending its stockpile of enriched uranium, no new centrifuges have been set up and construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor has come to a halt.
Even if a deal easing economic sanctions in exchange for strict nuclear programme oversight is reached between Iran and the six world powers, the US oil embargo on Iran will almost certainly remain intact, since that was a result of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1981. This will leave US corporations at a disadvantage since they would still be denied access to Iranian oil and gas even if the UN and EU sanctions are lifted. For its part, Iran has stated that American oil companies are welcome to return to the country. Even though there is scepticism on all sides, the meeting in Vienna should be viewed as a positive step to establishing some guidelines for future discussion and avoiding another violent conflict. The trick will be finding a middle ground that both sides can agree upon.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2014.