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More than a silver lining

The Iran nuclear deal could be a trigger for a far-reaching transformation

Written by Sheel Kant Sharma | Updated: July 25, 2015 12:40 am
Iran has agreed to go so much out of its way in assuming the obligations under the JCPOA that the document has an explicit disclaimer clause to affirm that it would not be precedent-setting in any manner. Iran has agreed to go so much out of its way in assuming the obligations under the JCPOA that the document has an explicit disclaimer clause to affirm that it would not be precedent-setting in any manner. (Source: AP photo)

The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5 plus Germany/the EU, as concluded on July 14, is a truly historic and landmark achievement, not only for non-proliferation but also for diplomacy and multilateralism. The joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) is the first of its kind in the annals of non-proliferation and arms control. It is based on the non-proliferation treaty and Iran’s associated safeguards agreement. However, it is unique in the extraordinary sweep of Iran’s negotiated yet voluntary commitments on closing the pathways to nuclear-weapon capability, as also in the drastic scaling down and dismantling of its uranium enrichment programme under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) most intensive protocols for monitoring, verification and control. The text of the JCPOA and the five annexes can be likened to the extensive arms control treaties of the Cold War years in leaving virtually nothing to ambiguity.

In fact, Iran has agreed to go so much out of its way in assuming the obligations under the JCPOA that the document has an explicit disclaimer clause to affirm that it would not be precedent-setting in any manner. While due to diverse domestic pressures, the deal’s interlocutors might claim the breakthrough to be a vindication of a rigorous sanctions-driven approach, the immense diplomatic worth of the success of negotiations that lasted almost a decade far exceeds the detailed minutiae of the deal. At the same time, no matter how delicately the protagonists in the West, led by US President Barack Obama, might describe their achievement, it is bound to be seen as a trigger for a far-reaching diplomatic transformation. It will serve to dispel the stigma on a major power like Iran as it progressively and with dignity breaks through the haze of suspicion that surrounds it. Because IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano expects results by next December, it will give a bigger boost to the credibility and effectiveness of the IAEA than the Nobel prize of a decade ago. It also demonstrates the confluence of the vital interests of the P5+1, given that their top diplomats relentlessly strove through a hard process right until the end. It will add respectability to the UN Security Council, whose reputation, in the Middle East in particular, has suffered due to a chequered record. Even coming as it does at a time that is particularly bleak for arms control and non-proliferation, the deal is much more than a mere silver lining. Its annexes raise the standard for a cooperative process of non-proliferation in one of the more difficult regions in the world.

When the agreed parameters of the JCPOA came out last April, the US factsheets appeared to show a comprehensive plan that the sceptics dismissed as being at variance with Iran’s version. The final text now bears out those factsheets almost to their entirety and it is still acceptable to Iran. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in his address, went to considerable lengths to emphasise the commitments assumed, the timeframes of restraints and reductions, the durability of the IAEA’s role and even the duration of embargoes on arms and ballistic missiles. This also demonstrated Iran’s confidence in the process, which was formally launched after Rouhani’s victory in 2013.

Rouhani’s address was couched in the language of the deep value in Iranian culture of politeness, logic, patience and forbearance. But he gave the pride of place to his government’s success in securing the removal of sanctions under the accord. He conceded that sanctions, even though unsuccessful in stopping Iranian resolve, did adversely affect the people. This gives insight into an Iran that is ready to engage with the world but is maintaining its dignity — rather different from North Korea. His address was understated in detailing the limits imposed on the technological capability of his nation by the final accord. Iran has, no doubt, stuck to its right to qualified retention and development of capacity and research, which the JCPOA does not challenge. However, that Iran will voluntarily reduce its capacity considerably for a decade under strict inspections, as prescribed in the JCPOA, would have been inconceivable in the past for Majlis hardliners. Rouhani’s address acknowledged that the JCPOA paved the way for UNSC action as the first step, and visualised, in a few months, the beginning of the abrogation of sanctions. Does this show a softening in its stance towards UNSC resolutions which it earlier rejected, although a disclaimer in the JCPOA footnote weakly insists on it? Or, as Obama said he expected in his latest interview to Thomas Friedman, will the clarity in the text be respected by Iran?

As for reactions, Israel arguably loathes Iran’s emergence from its long isolation more than it fears its residual nuclear capacity, while the Gulf states were slow to react. But their marked unease was reflected in their response in April to Obama’s Camp David invitation. In his latest interview, Obama duly heeds his Gulf allies’ concerns by eschewing any sugarcoating of Iran’s regional policies and the possibility of rapprochement with it, even as he contextualised this deal with the past historic initiatives of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with China and the Soviet Union, respectively, with whom there was also little trust. China’s top leadership has not issued immediate comments, even though the Global Times and People’s Daily have given the deal a rousing welcome. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in contrast, has promptly conveyed strong support for the deal in a lengthy comment. Obama has also acknowledged Russia’s contribution during talks. An account of the penultimate hour of uncertainty revealed that the Russian foreign minister and the EU foreign policy chief were with the US secretary of state before Iran’s foreign minister joined them to take the final steps to sign the accord. In the end, it’s the US Congress that might pass or fail the deal. Obama’s vow of a veto is contingent on support from his own party. The annexes to the JCPOA, however, are carefully elaborated and allow few loopholes that can be held up to denounce them. American non-proliferation experts, too, support the deal.

The writer is a former ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna

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  1. G
    Jul 25, 2015 at 9:30 am
    This is a fantastic deal. It is win-win. Iran is a major power and should be allowed to reach its potential. Israel and Saudi Arabia are worried for different reasons but India should celebrate since Iran could become a major partner. Israel must learn to live with states like Iran. It cannot expect USA to continue to do its bidding and control Iran. It will change the middle-east equations and Israel must understand that. Israel cannot rule the middle-east with its military power and nuclear weapons. Otherwise Israel's long term future is in doubt with the emergence of Iran.
    1. R
      Jul 25, 2015 at 7:26 am
      The nuclear deal marks the re-entry of Iran on the world scene with a sense of achievement but chastened in its nuclear ambitions. Given the comprehensive nature of oversight & monitoring of its nuclear weapons capability & its sites, Iran is acutely aware of its inability to expand its nuclear weapons capability. In return Iran can now get access to its frozen ets worth around$100 billion. It also gets to involve itself in international trade. However there is a expiry date inserted in the agreement and it remains to be seen what happens post 2030. Iran will have to abide by the agreement & failure to do so invokes the snap back clause & the resultant actions seem harsh & punitive. Iran will gain access to its wealth overseas,albeit after about a year. The agreement has received broad support across the world barring Israel & Saudi Arabia. There are discordant noises emanating from the US, particularly the Republicans. Obama has explained the genesis & the need for a solution but has not been able to convince the opposition. The deal becomes operative only after Congressional nod, a feat unlikely to be smooth. Obama has expressed his intention to use the veto but may have to face rough weather within his party, Democrats. Israel will leave no stone unturned to stymie the deal. Obama might consider this a crowning glory to his Presidency & history might judge him kindly. Iran seemed to be in dire desperation to have acceded to the rigorous provisions of the deal & Rouhani might face problems in the Majlis from hardliners calling it a sellout, though he has the support of its supreme leader, Khamenei. The reconstruction of Iran will be a huge spin off from this deal. New & stalled projects are estimated to be in the region of $185 billion & counting. Oil s by Iran would begin in right earnest making OPEC uneasy. Global oil prices have softened considerably & Iranian supplies would keep prices subdued much to the chagrin of oil exporters. Shale investments & production in US is bound to fall creating a possibility of US' entry into purchasing oil on the global markets. However, the Chinese slowdown has meant depressed demand while oil production is at a high with Saudi increasing production to a record level. India stands to benefit by lower oil prices in the medium term. This nuclear deal might set the benchmark for future deals wherein sanctions would be an effective tool to bring wavering nations on track. However, its effectiveness in other cases might be debatable. There is a worry though. Shiite Iran is known to support its causes by its b of Shiite terror. Sunni Saudi Arabia is, therefore wary & deeply concerned with the deal. There is a fear that a 'liberated' Iran might be emboldened to up the ante in strife torn Yemen through its support for the Houthi rebels. Similarly, Middle East might fear a Iran-backed Shiite backlash against Sunni dominated nations. Israeli fears of a resurgent Hezbollah & Hamas backed by Iran are not unfounded. As for India, this deal could work wonders if we are quick footed, smart & pragmatic. The geo-strategic implications for India are very beneficial. Apart from sizable contracts on offer, oil ets can be created through ONGC Videsh's Farzad oilfields. The strategic port of Chabahar now handed over to India for development could act as a critical cog in not only increasing trade with Iran but also as a link to oil & gas fields of Central Asia via pipelines. The TAPI pipeline could change its alignment byping stan for security reasons & move through Iran. Hence India could become a major beneficiary of the nuclear deal.
      1. S
        Jul 25, 2015 at 8:20 pm
        I doubt if US and Iran can have same relationship the way they had during Shah's time. Not sure if they will have a relationship the way US and Saudis have, despite being polar opposites. Will Iran become a liberal state ? As of now they have irrational hatred for USA, which to some extent is reciprocated in USA. USA ignored stan's nuclear program as they needed to make use of jihad against Soviets. During cold war many countries were secular, now all of them have come under influence of jihad - Egypt, Iraq, Libya , Syria, Afghanistan, stan and to some extent Bangladesh.
        1. Shrikant Sharma
          Jul 26, 2015 at 7:29 pm
          After a good long time journalism with courage was able to muster a courage to publish an analysis and synthesis of chemistry of nukes diplomacy is a vis nonproliferation Iran and boa as interview to fried man,congrats to the writer who was a respected governor in isea when he was posted as an ambador during Atalanta regime in Vienna and served there for foru long yrs as governor in IAEA too knowing well the intricacies of a nuke deal.bravo
          1. Shrikant Sharma
            Jul 26, 2015 at 7:36 pm
            I have lived in that era of shah Pahlavi in Tehran Iran and studied well the deep diplomatic flaws of American diplomacy leaving the friendship of a proud nation like Iran during those days of carter,s presidency.now this deal corrects that mistake up to some extent.vis a vis India it's a big apportunity and I hope if modi selects proper and able diplomats who knows the intricacies of nuke diplomacy India will emerge as a big beneficiary in this case.
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