The Iran deal: Sign of hope after years of mistrust

Friday 24/07/2015

Within moments of being announced, the Iran nuclear deal evoked emotionally charged and polarised reaction from almost every major foreign power.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced the deal was a “historic mistake” and US Republican Party leaders lined up to decry it as a diplomatic disaster. In the Middle East, Iranian hardliners restrained themselves, awaiting a statement from the supreme leader before comment­ing while the Saudi government channelled its opposition through state-owned media outlets.

Criticism of the agreement is not without foundation. The Israeli government feels more vulnerable with a bolstered Iran potentially with billions of dollars pouring into its coffers.

Saudi Arabia fears the deal weakens its position as the West’s number one ally after Israel in the region. American Republicans see it as an opportunity to flex their foreign policy creden­tials. Ironically, their objections put them in the unusual position of being in agreement with Iranian hardliners. Both think their respective side has made too many concessions in reaching the deal.

The reality is both sides gain from a continuation of the status quo. Iranian hardliners oppose the deal because it jeopardises the power and influence they wield. They have flourished in an Iran hostile towards the “Great Satan” and cling to the revolutionary rhetoric that put them in positions of power. By contrast, Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s main campaign pitch was to get the sanctions on Iran lifted. The deal gives credence to Iranian moder­ates, emboldening their vision for reforming the country.

One must take Iran’s transfor­mation over the past 36 years into account in order to gauge the degrees of influence the naysayers hold. Modern Iran is not the country the West remembers from 1979.

Two-thirds of Iranians were born since the revolution and this new generation is more open to Western norms than the rest of the world has been led to believe. Iran has one of the most digitally connected populations in the Middle East. The yearning for engagement was exemplified when the biggest gathering of Iranians outside the country in more than 30 years took place in Berlin to support the high-tech entrepreneurial ecosystem of Iran.

Critics are giving short shrift to the agreement’s unprecedented safeguards backed up by a rigorous inspections regime. A 10-year deal decrees that Iran can only enrich uranium to a level of 3.67%, well below the 90% level needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium will be limited to 300 kilograms down from more than 7 tonnes at present. Iran will still need to meet its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty during and after the deal and sanctions won’t be lifted until the Interna­tional Atomic Energy Agency gives the all-clear.

Opponents of the deal also fail to see what US President Barack Obama recognised with Cuba as well as Iran: The current policy has produced little benefits. The sanctions were meant to squeeze Iran into curtailing its nuclear programme. In reality the number of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges increased from 200 in 2005 to 19,000 in 2014.

The agreement does not initiate cordial diplomatic relations between Iran and Western nations. It will take years to restore the damage done by decades of hostilities and does not detract from concerns world powers have about Iran’s funding of terrorist organisations, its human rights policies and its provocative rhetoric towards Israel.

Despite a crippling economy, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards supply millions of dollars in funding to militant organisations in the region. The more likely use of the new funds would be to solve Iran’s huge internal deficit of infrastructure investment, particularly in energy exporting and transport.

There are huge demands for the use of newly acquired assets. The reformers in Iran understand very well that this deal has to deliver benefits to ordinary Iranians who demand a modernised country to suit their forward-thinking mindset and pursuits.

We should not automatically dismiss Iran’s commitment to the deal based on past mistrust. There are clear reasons to believe Iran wants to come in from the cold and is ready to be a nation working alongside world powers, not against them. This is evident from the painstaking effort it has taken to get this far. The deal should be supported and Iran given a chance to prove it is a responsible member of the global community of nations.

Yasmin Kalhori is a senior researcher at the House of Commons and founder of Go Iran Tours. Theo Bachrach is a foreign affairs researcher in London and senior editor at the International Security Observer think-tank.