Iran, the US, Germany, the UK, Russia, France and China have all agreed upon a framework for a comprehensive nuclear deal to be signed by the end of June this year. The deal is an attempt to restrict Iran’s nuclear technology capabilities so that they can only be used for civilian purposes and preclude development of atomic weapons.
Some of the key components of the nuclear deal entail Iran giving up 14,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges. They can keep their older first generation of centrifuges, but will not be allowed to build new models. Iran can hold onto 300 kilogrammes of their 10,000-kilogrammes of enriched uranium. The deal also requires Iran to repurpose the Arak nuclear facility in order to replace its plutonium core with one that cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium. These conditions significantly reduce Iran’s nuclear programme and of course inspections will play a key part in ensuring compliance.
Three crucial terms dominated the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland: the pace at which Iran will be allowed to develop nuclear technology in the last five years of the 15-year agreement, lifting of the UN sanctions, and if restrictions will be reinstated the minute that Iran violates the deal. The US and their European allies prefer that the sanctions are either suspended or terminated gradually over the years. They believe sanctions should only be removed after Iran has passed International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and resolved any serious questions regarding its nuclear programme. Across the table, Iran wants the sanctions lifted immediately.
An emerging uncertainty is how the deal will be received in the Republican-led US Congress. Obama faces opposition from Republicans who control majorities in both the House and Senate. On April 14, the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill that would give Congress a 30-day window to review a final deal. Obama had originally stated that he would veto such legislation, but it appears that the White House is ready to compromise and approve the bill. Perhaps, the Obama Administration became concerned that the bill had enough support to override a presidential veto. However, some Democratic senators were successful in watering down the bill somewhat and managed to reduce the 60 days to 30 days in which Congress can review any final agreement. Additionally, the condition that Obama prove that Iran is not supporting acts of terrorism against the US was removed. The bill does require the White House to send over the final agreement to Congress the minute it’s completed while blocking Obama’s ability to waive US sanctions on Iran during the review period.
The stage is set for both sides to resolve differences that have simmered for ages. Even though the framework for a preliminary deal was set on April 2, key issues do remain undecided and many hurdles will have to be crossed before a final agreement is signed by June 30. While domestic politics in the US may attempt to hijack these talks, Obama essentially only needs support from one-third of the Senate to sustain his veto. However, the next few weeks will be telling us about whether the US president and allies can sustain enough political will power to see the deal through to fruition. Opponents will be sure to point a finger towards Iran for their connection to sectarian conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen in the meantime. All three conflicts have Iranian and Saudi proxies in the fight.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2015.
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