Iran

Historic accord

Print edition : August 21, 2015

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (centre), who is also the country's top nuclear negotiator, at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran on July 15, a day after Iran and the West signed the nuclear deal. Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

A file photograph of Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities near the city of Arak, 250 kilometers south-west of Tehran. The facility will continue to function under the nuclear deal. Photo: Hamid Foroutan/AP

At a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square in New York City on July 22. Photo: MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

Iran signs a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other countries of the P5+1, hoping to leave behind 20 years of Western sanctions and at the same time asserting its national right to a nuclear programme.

Despite 11th-hour hurdles, Iran and the United States finally formalised a historic nuclear deal and signed a 159-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the second week of July. It took the two sides 20 painstaking months to seal the deal. Both the sides had threatened to walk out on several occasions. There was a lot of give and take involved, with the Iranian side making the bulk of the concessions.

The powerful pro-Israeli lobbies in the U.S. were working overtime to undermine the negotiations. Twenty-seven days of continuous talks in Vienna finally culminated in the long-awaited deal on July 14. The news was widely celebrated all over Iran. People took to the streets of Tehran to express their happiness. For many Iranians, the nuclear accord is the biggest event since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which overthrew the pro-Western monarchy.

The JCPOA was endorsed within a week by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The international community has warmly welcomed the outcome, barring the notable exception of Israel. The Saudi monarchy is, of course, not happy with the outcome, but Riyadh has not been complaining too loudly. Ashton Carter, the U.S. Defence Secretary, told reporters after a visit to the kingdom in late July that the Saudi King had accepted that the nuclear deal with Iran was “a good one”. The junior allies of Washington in the region know when to fall in line.

Israel is being assuaged by the U.S. with promises of even more bountiful deliveries of sophisticated weaponry. Israel has been for long the biggest recipient of American military largesse and aid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still nursing faint hopes that powerful lobbying groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will be able to persuade the U.S. Congress, which has 60 days to review the accord, to scupper it. In case the majority in Congress votes against the deal, Barack Obama will use his presidential powers to veto the resolution. According to recent reports, it will be difficult for the hawks in the U.S. Congress to get the required numbers to reject the deal. The U.S. Defence Secretary, on a visit to Israel after the signing of the nuclear deal, assured the Israeli government that the “military option” was not completely off the table if Iran was caught cheating.

The Iranian Majlis (parliament) will also be voting on the deal but only after the U.S. Congress casts its vote. It has delayed the vote by 80 days so that it can respond to the outcome of the Congress vote. The Iranian Constitution gives the Majlis the right to cancel the deal.

In one of his many outrageous statements on the issue, Netanyahu claimed that Iran had now become the greatest threat to the international community. All the Republican hopefuls vying for the presidency, barring the sole exception of Congressman Rand Paul, have strongly condemned the deal. All of them had come out against the deal even before going through the details of the agreement. The Obama administration said that the deal was based entirely on the principle of “verification, not trust”. Iran, according to senior U.S. officials, will be subjected to unprecedented surveillance. If Iran is found violating the accord, sanctions, according to these officials, will automatically “snap back into place”.

President Obama was quick to boast that his administration had achieved what decades of animosity could not, namely “a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that would prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon”. He said that the alternative to a deal would have meant “greater chances for more war in the Middle East [West Asia]”. With the agreement, Obama seems assured of a prominent place in contemporary U.S. history. Many U.S. commentators are comparing the agreement to President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to and the resumption of the U.S.’ diplomatic relations with China.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other senior officials engaged in the negotiations with the U.S. were the first to admit that concessions had to be made to fulfil the government’s pledge to get the decades-old sanctions lifted and bring an end to what the Iranians describe as a “manufactured crisis” by the West. The Iranian leadership has gone to great lengths to portray the nuclear accord as a wise economic decision essential for the well-being of the Iranian people. The head of Iran’s Atomic Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, who is close to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the Majlis that Iran in the past had not paid attention “to the costs and benefits” involved while “advancing its national interests”.

For starters, Iran will now be able to start accessing $100 billion of its frozen assets. Iran has called for the immediate lifting of all the sanctions. Countries like Russia have already said that the nuclear deal signifies the end of the sanctions regime. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected on his pledge to end the international sanctions, said that the agreement had helped his nation fulfil important objectives it had set for itself before sitting down for talks with the U.S. He listed these objectives as Iran’s right to go ahead with nuclear activities, the lifting of the “cruel and inhumane sanctions”, and the withdrawal of Iran’s nuclear dossier from the UNSC. Reacting to criticisms from hardliners that the deal impinged on the sovereignty of the country, Rouhani said that a failure to reach a deal would have meant a return to the “economic stone age” for Iran.

He said that Iran would have the right to keep 6,000 centrifuges in operation. The Arak heavy water reactor will also remain in place. The President said that work would continue at the facility in the future to complete it. The Fordow nuclear reactor will continue functioning, with 1,000 centrifuges. The Iranian Foreign Minister stated that the most important concession that Iran got was the acknowledgement that it had the right to nuclear power autonomy, including the enrichment of fuel. “For 12 years, the great powers tried to prevent the Iranian nuclear programme. But today, they should tolerate the spinning of thousands of centrifuges, plus the continuation of research and development,” he told the Majlis. The recognition by the West of Iran’s national right to a nuclear programme is indeed a significant achievement.

The accord has, of course, placed stringent restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will be allowed access but it will not be the “anytime, anywhere” kind of inspections, like the ones that occurred in Iraq before 2003. There will be a rollback of its enrichment programme and cuts in its fissile material stockpiles. Iran will be stripped of 98 per cent of its enriched uranium and all of its plutonium-producing capacity, along with two-thirds of its nuclear centrifuges. Many of the limitations on nuclear research will stay for 10 years. A few restrictions will be permanent. But many Iranians are of the view that the sacrifices are worth their while given that the back-breaking sanctions will finally be lifted. Iran does not have to face economic warfare anymore. All that Tehran had to really do was to give up thousands of centrifuges and curtail its peaceful nuclear programme in exchange for the draconian sanctions to be lifted.

The Islamic Republic has been under Western sanctions almost from the very beginning of the revolution. The West has been trying to destabilise the government in Tehran from the very outset. First, the West and its regional allies cynically used Iraq to advance their blueprint. The eight-year war between the two countries cost more than a million people their lives. The Iranian government’s efforts to normalise relations during the Clinton presidency were also thwarted as Bill Clinton was greatly influenced by the Zionist lobby in the U.S.

It was in the mid-1990s that Iran decided to go in for a nuclear enrichment programme. The neoconservative-dominated administration of George W. Bush made Iran part of their so-called “axis of evil”, along with Iraq and North Korea. Regime change in Tehran was the goal of the neoconservatives in Washington during the Bush regime. Accusations were routinely made until recently about Iran being on the verge of producing nuclear weapons. Threats of military action against Iran became louder, with Israel avidly prodding the U.S. Iran’s offer to discuss its nuclear enrichment programme with the West were repeatedly spurned. President George Bush Jr has acknowledged that he was under tremendous pressure from his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, and the neoconservatives in the government to bomb Iran during the last year of his presidency.

Obama too rejected all offers of a dialogue with the Iranian leadership during his first term in office. Instead, his administration, in connivance with Israel, tried to undermine Iran’s nuclear programme by unleashing malicious cyberattacks. In 2012, Obama offered to talk with the Iranian government on the nuclear issue. At the same time, the U.S. unleashed another cyberattack on Iran’s oil and gas industry. As Iran continued undeterred with its enrichment programme, the U.S. changed tack and decided to engage Tehran in serious negotiations, at the beginning of Obama’s second term in office.

The Iranian President stated that the agreement with the P5+1 would only be fully implemented once the Western powers clearly announced the lifting of all the sanctions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose backing was crucial to the successful outcome of the negotiations, cautiously endorsed the deal. Khamenei has been consistent in his stance on nuclear weapons. On several occasions, he has said that possessing nuclear weapons is against the tenets of Islam. Khamenei described the nuclear agreement as a “milestone”, at the same time calling for a “careful scrutiny” of the text of the agreement. He also warned his countrymen to be vigilant about “possible violations” of the accord by some of the signatories. The accord has been signed by Iran and the P5+1, comprising the permanent UNSC members and Germany. Only Russia and China in the group are considered sympathetic to Iran.

In a speech delivered after the end of Ramzan, Khamenei said that the nuclear deal would not make the country waver from its principles, pointing out that U.S. policies in the region were “180 degrees” opposed to those of Iran. He has sent out a strong signal that Iran remains committed to its allies in the region, notably Syria and the Hizbollah movement in Lebanon. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Aragchi, said that his country would keep on helping its allies in the region. “Whenever it is needed to send arms to our allies in the region, we will do so. We are not ashamed of it,” he said on national television in the last week of July. The Obama administration is still bent on destabilising the Syrian government and is training and financing rebel groups. Washington’s allies in the region are even supporting jehadi groups like the Al Nusra Front. Iran and Hizbollah, with the backing of Russia, are supporting the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad. Paradoxically, in Iraq, the U.S. and Iran are jointly fighting the Islamic State (IS).

Iran has indicated that it would prefer to do business with countries like Russia and China as it starts the task of rebuilding its economy. The Iranian leadership wants countries like India and Pakistan, despite their earlier adherence to U.S.-mandated sanctions, to be among the first countries to participate in joint ventures. India is already involved in the development of the Chabahar port. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline could now be extended all the way to India. West European countries, in their efforts to lessen their dependency on Russian oil and gas, are increasingly looking to Iran. Iran’s Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh told the media that his government planned to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and the oil and gas industry, worth $180 billion, by 2020.

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