The agreement concluded between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) and Iran on July 14 is truly historic. It may not change the map of the Middle East — though it has already been changed somewhat by the so-called Islamic caliphate — but it will certainly change its geopolitics. The success of the negotiations testifies to the role that diplomacy can play in resolving international conflicts. Successful diplomacy requires patience, perseverance, clear goals and the political will to offer compromises. Both sides demonstrated these qualities in ample measure.
Inevitably, politicians and experts are busy drawing a balance sheet to determine who won more. In many ways, this is a model agreement because both sides can claim victory. There was an ongoing debate about who needed the deal more and who had the stronger hand. This debate can and will continue without conclusion.
There is an understandable sense of jubilation in Iran. The Iranian people have suffered heavily under sanctions and are thrilled that their isolation will soon be over. Even President Hassan Rouhani spoke of the end of isolation. However, the Iranians will soon realise that the relief they have been anticipating will be some time coming. The billions of dollars frozen due to sanctions will not be released immediately. The sanctions will be eased only after the deal takes effect, and this will not happen until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certifies that Iran has fully explained its current and past nuclear programmes, which will happen only by December 15 at the earliest. There is also a snapback provision whereby the sanctions will kick in again 65 days after Iran is found to be in breach of its commitments. There are other provisions to which Iranian hardliners will strenuously object when the deal is presented to the Majlis for ratification.
On the American side, battle lines are clearly drawn along partisan lines. Some Democrat Congressmen will also oppose the deal, not so much because of its weaknesses but because they wish to retain the goodwill of Israel and the Jewish lobby. It is probable that the Senate will reject the deal within the next 60 days. President Barack Obama has lost no time in declaring that he will veto any such verdict.
The Republicans will not find it easy to cobble together 67 votes to override the veto, though Israel will work overtime to torpedo the deal. Iran can help Obama by releasing the American prisoners it has been holding.
Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states will be more upset. It will be entirely up to Iran to assure its neighbours of its peaceful, non-aggressive intentions. The dangers of nuclear proliferation in the region following the deal are exaggerated.
There is an interesting point of international law. Even if the US Senate were to throw out the deal with 67 votes, the other five countries that have coauthored the deal will not be bound by the US Congress’s action. The agreement will remain valid, especially if endorsed by the UNSC, as it certainly will given the unanimity among the permanent members.
Analysts and Congressmen in America are unanimous in declaring that Iran cannot be trusted to keep its side of the bargain. But Obama says that the question is not of trust but of verification. (Similarly, we too ought to stop speaking of trust in our relations with Pakistan.) Detailed provisions for verification have been incorporated in the deal, thus ensuring that Iran will not cheat, and if it does, it will be found out quickly, kicking in the process of stopping whatever relief Iran might have obtained. Iran has every incentive to abide by its commitments. On the whole, it is a good deal.
India should welcome the deal without reservation. Experts and think-tanks can and will discuss who won and who lost, but as a government, we should, without delay or hesitation, warmly welcome the deal. An unequivocal statement of support for an agreement negotiated by six principal powers with whom we have either cordial or good relations would certainly be in order. Iran, with whom we have less than cordial relations since our negative vote against it at the IAEA a few years ago, will also welcome our unreserved support. Most importantly, from our point of view, the deal will be hugely beneficial. In due course, we will be able to buy and pay for Iranian oil through banking channels.
If Iran increases production, as it will, the price of crude will fall further, which will help us in our balance of payments. Our unambiguous support will also have a positive impact on our plans for the Chabahar port and eventually for access to Central Asia through the northern corridor, a much more reliable route than the one through Afghanistan, if and when it becomes available to us.
The writer, adjunct senior fellow, Delhi Policy Group, is a former special envoy of India for the Middle East.