Iran nuclear deal to strengthen security and stability


- VFJ Abdur Rahman Chowdhury from Virginia, USA

Following protracted negotiation between Iran and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany a historic nuclear deal was reached on Thursday (April 03) in Lausanne, Switzerland. The deal aims at limiting the enrichment of uranium, reduction of the stockpiles of centrifuges, dispossession of the spent fuels by Iran and lifting of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union. During the coming months both sides would work out the technical details of the deal. By end June 2015, the deal would take the shape of an agreement.

It is said "a good negotiation takes about as long as an elephant takes to have a baby but the outcome is not guaranteed." In case of Iran nuclear talks it has been painstaking given the direct involvement of all five members of the UN Security Council, forebodings of neighbouring Arab countries on Tehran's alliance with radical outfits in the region and Israel's anathema of Iran's emergence as a regional power.

MAIN FEATURES: This is not an agreement - it is a framework putting in place the parameters of potential agreement to be prepared by end June. The principal parameters are: a) Iran has agreed to reduce its centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,000 for ten years of which 5,600 could enrich uranium; b) Iran would reduce its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms, would not enrich uranium over 3.6 per cent for 15 years and refrain from building new enrichment facilities in that period; c) the heavy water reactor in Arak would be rebuilt incapacitated to produce weapons-grade plutonium, underground plant in Fordow would be converted to nuclear physics and technology center dissecting uranium enrichment capacity; d) the International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) would be given access to all sites and the United States and European Union would suspend sanctions as monitors verify Tehran's compliance with the agreement.

President Obama has hailed the deal and said, "This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon. This is not based on trust; it's based on unprecedented verification." He defended the deal and said once concluded, it would be preferable to any alternatives. The alternatives are either accepting the dangerous status-quo, where notwithstanding sanctions, Iran has been able to increase the production of centrifuges from 10,000 to over 19,000. The outcome of military actions, the other alternative, is highly uncertain but bound to make Iranians more determined to make nuclear bomb within a short period. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The political understanding we have reached is a solid foundation for the good deal we are seeking."

REACTIONS: Republican Senator Tom Cotton, the author of infamous letter to Ayatollah, bemoaned that the framework only listed the US concession that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said," The framework would legitimise Iran's nuclear programme, bolster Iran's economy and increase Iran's aggression and terror throughout Middle East and beyond." He added that Israel will be the first to be harmed by this agreement. Obama disagreed and said, "If Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option." King Salman of Saudi Arabia expressed hope that the deal would strengthen security and stability in the region.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has vowed to abide by the terms of the preliminary nuclear deal it signed with six world powers, so long as they do too. But President Rouhani warned that Iran would have other options if world powers "one day decide to follow a different path". Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's Foreign Minister, was upbeat and said, "We will continue enriching uranium. Our heavy water reactor will be modernised………..when we implement our measures, there will be no sanctions against Iran. It's a win-win outcome." Iranians came out in the streets of the major cities and welcomed the deal in the hope that this landmark understanding would pave the way for their reintegration with the rest of the world.

There was no joint communiqué and the fact sheets prepared by the EU/US reportedly appear different from those of Iran. Critics of the deal argued that Iran would not have to roll back its nuclear programme while the suspension would be lifted enabling Tehran to revamp its economy. John Kerry explained that IAEA would install sophisticated monitors in nuclear facilities and any attempt to temper data or activity to restart the programme would immediately send signals to the monitors. This is the strongest safeguard placed against further nuclearisation of the programme. It has been alleged that Tehran's arming of the Shiite rebels in Yemen, military and political support to Assad regime in Syria and alliance with Hezbollah in Lebanon found no reference in the deal. The deal appears as reward for aggression. Netanyahu suggested that in the final agreement there should be unequivocal renunciation of Tehran's resolve to annihilate Israel. The reference, if not agreement, on all these issues would have made the framework comprehensive but the circumstances were such that the negotiation had to be narrowed down to the de-nuclearisation of Iran.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: The US and Iran had been at odds since the Islamic revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979. The seizure of American embassy in Tehran and the abortive attempt to rescue the hostage marked the end of diplomatic relation between the two countries. The alleged Iranian-sponsored attacks on US marines and diplomats in Lebanon and downing of Iranian flight by US missiles in 1988 further embittered the relation. The US has long been portrayed as Great Saturn in Iranian streets. The tensions centred on Iran's alleged nuclear programmeme since 2003 and the US in concert with European allies imposed sanctions against Iran. Mahmud Ahmedenizad, former Iranian president, exacerbated the tensions by denial of holocaust and resolved to wipe out Israel from the glove. The fall in oil price and economic sanction began to hurt Iranian banks - at least five Iranian nuclear scientists were killed by unknown assassins in two years. The America's generous economic assistance and solidarity with Israel came as great irritants to the Muslim world. Iran extended support to Hamas and Hezbollah as antidotal to unjust occupation by an American ally. US considered Iran's support to Israel's adversaries as state terrorism.

In this backdrop, Hassan Rouhani became President of Iran in 2013 promising end of isolation and economic sanction. His conciliatory approach earned the confidence of the US and European countries. Direct negotiations began in the same year and a tentative agreement was signed by Iran with US and EU setting the stage for a comprehensive agreement that would allow Iran to freeze its nuclear programmeme - in return economic sanctions would be withdrawn.

CHALLENGES: The framework faces multiple challenges. The Republican senators are demanding Congressional approval prior to signing the agreement. In the event it is rejected by Congress the President would find it difficult to approve. President Obama warned "If Congress kills this deal, then it's the US that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy, international unity will collapse and the path to conflict will widen." The hardliners in Tehran felt too much concessions have been acceded without much in return. The lifting of economic sanctions would not be immediate; rather it would be subject to rolling back of the nuclear programme. These would strengthen the hawks and weaken the moderates in Iran. The escalation of civil wars in Yemen and Syria would convolute the navigation of the framework into an agreement. Millions of peace-loving people in the world are, however, hoping that the hawks from all sides of the isle will take a pause and give peace a chance.

The writer is a former official of the United Nations and a VFJ in Washington, USA