The Iran problem after the nuclear deal
The deal has been done. After years of talking to Iran, both in the open and in secret, the international community, represented by the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), have agreed with Tehran to a comprehensive agreement to halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. This agreement includes what many have described as the most rigorous inspection regime the world has ever seen, lasting more than ten years.
While there is jubilation in foreign ministries from Berlin to Washington, and relief in Beijing and Moscow a deal has been done, there is deep concern in Arab capitals.
First the good news. It is clear that the Iranian government has decided to turn away from the self-imposed economic isolation caused by its push for a large nuclear weapons programme and decided that its future rests with working within the international system.
The sanctions imposed by the international community worked. They brought Tehran to the negotiating table and the P5+1 worked hard to maintain consensus to force Iran to give up its nuclear programme.
The deal itself achieves an intrusive inspection regime (some of which last many years longer); and at least a one-year break-out capability even if Tehran decided in the meantime to build a nuclear weapon, this is up from months, if not weeks, right now. Even if Iran decided to break the agreement and go for a bomb, the deal allows snap-back sanctions; Iran would be in a far worse position than it is now.
For Iran, the deal will allow Tehran to access international capital and markets via the pulling back of sanctions. It will give Iran’s young people access to global products, lifestyles and culture. With more than 60% of Iran’s population under 30, the hope is that with opening up Iran to the international community, young people will fundamentally change Iran to join more and more of the international norms required by modern nations.
But there are also major concerns with the deal. These fall into two separate areas.
One key concern surrounds the agreement itself. Will the international inspection regime put in place by the deal really be sufficient to ensure the one-year break out-capability and will it stop Iran cheating?
These are separate issues but both will require constant monitoring of the monitors to ensure they are doing their role well and ensuring that the one-year break-out capability is reached. With this, the international community will have to use all intelligence networks and systems to ensure that Iran is not cheating the inspectors and the deal.
Due to the past nature of the Iranian nuclear programme, it will only be over time that trust can be established but, in the meantime, Iran will have to expect international suspicion and even increased intelligence gathering.
The other problem the deal throws up is that of the geopolitical stability of the Middle East. Already there is deep suspicion in the Arab world of the negotiations that the P5+1, and specifically the United States, has been conducting with Tehran. The formal deal will heighten the concern.
The Arab world is feeling the direct impact of Tehran’s policy in the Middle East, from the militias it supports in Iraq — burning and pillaging their way through Sunni tribal communities to the propping up of the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his barrel bomb attacks on his own population, to supporting terrorist networks across the region and world.
Many in the region believe that the nuclear deal will allow Tehran to expand its present actions and may even mean Western support of these policies. The loosening of UN sanctions on conventional weapons within the next eight years is an unwelcome sign. This may force Arab nations to actions that the West would not support, leading to greater global instability.
These issues are not insurmountable; time will see if the nuclear agreement can be fully implemented and that the key concerns of the deal can be mitigated.
In the meantime, the P5+1, and specifically the United States, will need to work hard to reassure Arab capitals that the deal will not stop the world countering all the other problems that Tehran causes around the world, for the next task will be for the West to work together to ensure that Iran stops its malign actions and fully rejoins the community of responsible nations.