By Saqib Mehmood

Nov 28, 2013

Understanding the Iranian Nuclear Deal

After all-nights talks, Iran and the six major powers have finally come up with an interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. According to the concluded agreement, Iran will roll back some key elements of its nuclear program against limited relief in sanctions. Iran will not add or install new centrifuges at its nuclear facilities and the enrichment process at Arak nuclear reactor will be stopped. However, the overall sanction architecture will remain in place, until a final comprehensive agreement is inked between both parties. In the meantime, no new sanctions will be imposed by the six major powers and Iran will give access to UN inspectors to inspect its nuclear facilities.

The nature of concluded agreement is interim and extends over a period of six months, during which both parties will negotiate and try to agree upon a more comprehensive and long-term agreement. Though the key players in the negotiations were Iran, US, Russia, UK, China, France and Germany, Iran and the US maintained centre stage and played a pivotal role.

The major goals of Iran in these negotiations were regime preservation, securing its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and to soften international sanctions. On the other hand, the objectives of the P5+1 included preventing Iran from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons, and to encourage it to uphold its international obligations under the international nuclear non-proliferation regime through diplomacy, harsh or soft. Soon after this provisional deal was concluded, President Obama stated that “we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.” Of course there are weaknesses in this provisional agreement that render Israel and some other states dubious of the credibility of the agreement’s capacity to constrain Iranian moves towards the development of nuclear weapon capability. For example, the agreement confines itself to Uranium enrichment and stockpiles, while not taking into account some of the secret Iranian military nuclear facilities like Parchin Military base, where Iran has been accused of testing nuclear-related explosions.

As the deal surfaces it is met with warm international appreciation, except for the usual few concerned and suspicious voices. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for one, termed it a ‘historic mistake’ that US has made in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. He said that this agreement will not ‘make the World a safer place; rather it has made the World a much more dangerous place in the universe’. According to Netanyahu, the Iranian regime is only buying time through ‘cosmetic steps which it can reverse within weeks’ and Israel is ‘not bound to this agreement.’ Saudi Arabia ‘cautiously welcomed’ the agreement and called it first step towards a final and comprehensive agreement.

The sustainability of interim agreement greatly depends on the Iranian compliance with what it has agreed on during the talks and in the document, as well as its willingness and efforts to find common grounds on which a comprehensive and final agreement could be secured at the end of these six months. If it is, however, an Iranian ploy to buy time to develop a weapon and test it, the result will most probably be greater regional chaos, instability and an international crisis. That, however, does not appear to be the intention at this time, and it seems likely that Iran will uphold its commitments, because technically Iran apparently lacks the capability to test a weapon design with a reliable missile and a launching pad without being detected by the surveillance satellites and the CIA, National Security Agency, Mossad, MI6 and other intelligence agencies.

Secondly, the viability of this interim agreement and unhindered progression towards a final long-term solution greatly depends on how far the US administration is manipulated by the Israeli lobby in the United States. From the Israeli point of view, the Iranian nuclear program, whether civilian or military, is a serious threat to its security. Soon after the deal, Israeli Prime Minister asserted that “for many years Israel and World community has demanded that Iran cease all Uranium enrichment, now for the first time international community has formally consented that Iran continue to enrichment of Uranium.” It was clear in statement that Israel will never accept an agreement that stipulates anything less than the complete cessation of the Iranian nuclear program, including the civil nuclear program. This fear stems from the belief that if Iran has the capacity and capability to enrich Uranium, even if it is restricted to a low 5-percent grade, it can produce a nuclear weapon at will. Moreover the Iranian support to Hizbullah, Hammas and other organizations in the region exacerbates the Israeli sensitivity and fear of transfer of nuclear weapons or ‘dirty bombs’ to these non-state actors, and its implications for Israeli security. So it can be expected that Israel will try hard to convince the US administration in the coming days to make tougher demands during the negotiation in the next six months, even as it remains unclear how Iran will respond to such demands.

Hopefully the Americans will retain the lessons learnt from Iraq and Afghanistan, where the wars highlighted the fact that a military approach to resolve such issues can be counterproductive and result in unmanageable resistance. It seems probable that the US will adhere to its current policy and try its best to find a reasonable balance between the Israeli push for tougher demands and the Iranian capacity to yield to them.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the foreign office has, in a recent statement, welcomed the development. Nonetheless, as an immediate neighbor to Iran and given the history between the two countries, there are three key questions which Pakistani policy makers should focus. For almost 35 years, Iran has called the US ‘the Greatest Satan’ and the US has termed Iran ‘an evil state’. But in international politics, there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies; the only permanent feature in state relations are national interests. The mere thought of a US Secretary of State openly meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister would have been difficult to imagine a few months ago, and simply unthinkable at the beginning of the revolutionized, ‘Islamic’ Iran. And yet, such is case today. Furthermore, there are indications that both states will come close in the coming days. In this background, Pakistani policymakers should consider whether during this brief period of calm, when the stranglehold of international sanctions will be lowered, Pakistan can revitalize its dormant gas pipeline deal with Iran? Secondly, given the prospects of closer Iran and US ties in the coming days, will Pakistan be left with a narrower space to bargain with the US on certain strategic issues, knowing that the US may also have the possibility of an alternative supply route through Iran? The third and perhaps most important question relates to the likely impact on the future of regional security? Will Iran support the security and stability framework in Afghanistan beyond the NATO drawdown in 2014, given its ideological and political support to northern alliance against the Pushtuns?

In this era of complex interdependence, small states like Pakistan with fewer options and rare opportunities must be vigilant in formulating and exercising foreign policy. At this juncture of history Pakistan urgently needs to review its policy and relations, especially with the US, and other regional players. The focus of policy makers during such a review should be the implications of the shirking space to employ active diplomacy at regional and international planes, and how Pakistan can continue to guard its national interests.

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