Historic deal is reached… now starts the hard part
WASHINGTON - Is it “a historic deal that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” as US President Barack Obama declares, or “a historic mistake” as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues? The one thing Obama and Netanyahu agree on is that the deal is “historic” and most observers would agree.
The agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1-Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — came after several years of tough bargaining, which began with back — channel talks hosted by the Sultanate of Oman and ended over several tense weeks in which “deadlines” were repeatedly pushed back. Clearly, despite walkout threats and blustery rhetoric, both sides wanted an agreement.
The agreement — officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – runs 159 pages, including several annexes. The details buried in those pages will certainly provide much fodder for both supporters and opponents of the agreement, most of whom staked out “pro” or “con” positions well before the outcome was known.
Key aspects of the agreement include:
• Strict oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including “managed access” to Iranian military bases, something Tehran had initially resisted.
• Phased-in sanctions relief for Iran, including the unfreezing of billions of dollars in Iranian assets held in Western financial institutions. But the P5+1 nations retain the right to reimpose sanctions if violations by Iran are uncovered.
• A continued arms embargo against Iran for five years, although the UN Security Council would have the right to lift it earlier.
• Iran will reduce the number of centrifuges it holds from about 19,000 to just more than 6,000.
The very first paragraph of the agreement text states, “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” Ultimately, the entire agreement will be judged on whether it achieves this goal.
As gruelling as the negotiations have been, in many ways the hard bargaining between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was the easy part. The game now shifts to Tehran and Washington, and powerful factions in each capital would love nothing more than to torpedo it.
Both the Iranian Majlis (parliament) and the US Congress must approve the agreement. As long as Iran’s supreme leader is supportive, the Majlis most likely will fall in line. Congress, however, is a different matter as almost all Republicans and many Democrats have expressed scepticism, if not outright opposition, to the agreement.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the agreement amounts to “a declaration of war against Israel and the Sunni Arabs”. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and ranking member Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the agreement “manages” Iran’s nuclear programme but does not get rid of it.
Even if Congress passes legislation rejecting the deal — after the 60 days it has to debate it — Obama has said he would veto it. Congress could only override the president’s veto by a two-thirds majority vote, which seems unlikely.
In the final analysis, this agreement only addresses issues in a very specific arena — nuclear power — and Iran’s compliance with its terms will only be apparent over time. Levels of mutual mistrust remain high. In that sense, it is by no means a “peace accord”.
Iran and the West, especially the United States, remain at odds over a host of issues, including Iranian support for international terrorism and regional insurgencies.
The fact that the United States and the other P5+1 states devoted so much diplomatic energy to achieving this agreement in itself elevates Iran’s status. Add to that the easing of sanctions and unfreezing of billions of dollars in assets and there is no doubt that Iran will emerge stronger.
The yet-to-be-answered question is, will Iran use its new status and resources to develop its stagnant economy and fulfil its people’s desire to engage peacefully with the world? Or will it “pocket” this deal and use the benefits it achieved to pursue regional hegemonic dreams?
The answer to those questions will become clear over the next decade.