September 06, 2015

US-Iran Nuclear Deal

Yohannan Chemarapally

IRAN and the United States have finally formalised the historic nuclear deal and signed a 159 page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the second week of July. It had taken the two sides 20 painstaking months to finally seal the deal. Both the sides had threatened to walk out on several occasions. There was a lot of give and take involved, with the Iranian side making the bulk of the concessions.

The powerful pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States were working overtime to undermine the negotiations. 27 days of continuous talks in Vienna finally culminated in the long awaited deal on July 14. The news was widely celebrated all over Iran. People took to the streets of Teheran to express their happiness as the news was announced. For many Iranians the nuclear accord has been the biggest event since the Iranian revolution of 1979 which overthrew the pro-western monarchy.

The JCPOA was endorsed within a week by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The international community has warmly welcomed the outcome barring the notable exception of Israel and the neo-conservative politicians in the US Congress. The Saudi monarchy is of course not happy with the outcome but Riyadh has not been complaining too loudly. The junior allies of Washington in the region know when to fall in line. Ashton Carter, the US defense secretary told reporters after a visit to the kingdom in late July that the Saudi King had accepted that the nuclear deal with Iran was "a good one".




Israel is being assuaged by Washington with promises of even more bountiful deliveries of sophisticated weaponry. Israel has been for long the biggest recipient of American military largesse and aid. Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu is still nursing faint hopes that powerful lobbying groups like the AIPAC will be able to persuade the US Congress to scupper the deal. The US Congress has 60 days to review the accord. In case, the majority in the US Congress votes against the deal, Obama will use his presidential powers to veto the resolution. According to recent reports, it will be difficult for the hawks in the US Congress to get the numbers required to reject the deal. The US defense secretary on a visit to Israel after the signing of the nuclear deal assured the Israeli government that the "military option" was not completely off the table if Iran was caught cheating on the nuclear deal.

The Iranian Majlis (parliament) will also be voting on the deal but will be doing so only after the US Congress casts its vote. The Majlis has delayed the vote on the nuclear deal by 80 days so that it can respond to the outcome of the vote in the US Congress. The Iranian Constitution gives the Majlis the right to cancel the deal. 

In one of his many outrageous statements on the issue, Netanyahu claimed that Iran now has become the greatest threat to the international community. All the Republican hopefuls vying for the American presidency, barring the sole exception of Congressman Rand Paul, have strongly condemned the nuclear deal America has signed with Iran. All of them had come out against the deal even before going through the details of the agreement.

The Obama administration has said that the deal Washington has clinched is based entirely on the principle of "verification not trust". Iran, according to senior American officials, would be subjected to unprecedented surveillance. If Iran is found violating the accord, sanctions according to senior American officials will automatically "snap back into place". President Barack Obama was quick to boast that his administration had achieved what decades of animosity could not, namely "a comprehensive, long term deal with Iran that would prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon". The American president said that an alternative to a deal would have meant "greater chances for more war in the middle east". With the agreement, President Obama seems assured of a prominent place in contemporary American history. Many American commentators are comparing the US agreement with Iran to President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China and the resumption of America's diplomatic relations with China.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as other senior officials engaged in the negotiations with Washington were the first to admit that concessions had to be made to fulfill the government's pledge to get the decades long sanctions on Iran lifted and bring an end to what the Iranians describe as the "manufactured crisis" by the West. The Iranian leadership has gone to great lengths to portray the nuclear accord as a wise economic decision essential for the well being of the Iranian people. The Head of Iran's Atomic Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, who is close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the Majlis that Iran in the past had not paid attention "to the costs and benefits" involved while "advancing its national interests". 

For starters, Iran will now be able to start accessing $100 billion of its unfrozen assets. Iran has called for the immediate lifting of all the sanctions. Countries like Russia have already said that the nuclear deal signifies the end of the sanctions regime. Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani, who was elected on his pledge to end the international sanctions, said that the agreement has helped his nation fulfill the important objectives it had set before sitting down for talks with the US. He listed the objectives as Iran's rights to go ahead with nuclear activities, the lifting of the "cruel and inhumane sanctions" and the withdrawal of the Iran's nuclear dossier from the UNSC. Reacting to criticisms from hardliners that the deal impinged on the sovereignty of the country, Rouhani said that a failure to reach a deal would have meant a return to the "economic stone age" for Iran.

He said that Iran would have the right to keep 6000 centrifuges in operation. The Arak heavy water reactor will also remain in place. The Iranian president said that work will continue at the facility in the future to complete it. The Fordaw nuclear reactor will continue functioning with 1000 centrifuges. The Iranian foreign minister has stated that the most important concession that the country got was the acknowledgement that his country had the right to nuclear power autonomy, including the enrichment of fuel. "For 12 years, the great powers tried to prevent the Iranian nuclear program. But today, they should tolerate the spinning of thousands of centrifuges, plus the continuation of research and development", he told the Majlis. The recognition by the West of Iran's national right to a nuclear programme is indeed one of the significant achievements.

The accord has of course placed stringent restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme. IAEA inspectors will be allowed access but it will not be the "anytime, anywhere" kind of inspections like the ones that occurred in Iraq before 2003. There will be a roll back of its enrichment programme and cuts in its fissile material stockpiles. Iran will be stripped of 98 percent of its enriched uranium and all of its plutonium producing capacity along with two thirds of its nuclear centrifuges. Many of the limitations on nuclear research will stay for ten years. A few restrictions will be permanent. But many Iranians are of the view that the sacrifices are worth their while given the fact that back breaking sanctions will finally be lifted. Iran does not have to face economic warfare anymore. All that Teheran had to really do was to give up thousands of centrifuges and curtail its peaceful nuclear programme in exchange for the draconian sanctions to be lifted.




The Islamic Republic has been under western sanctions almost from the very beginning of the Revolution. The West has been trying to destabilise the government in Teheran from the very outset. First the West and its regional allies cynically used Iraq to advance their blueprint. The eight year war between the two countries cost the lives of more than a million people. The Iranian government’s efforts to normalise relations during the Clinton presidency were also thwarted. Bill Clinton was greatly influenced by the Zionist lobby in the United States.

It was in the mid nineties that Iran decided to go in for a nuclear enrichment programme. The neo-conservative dominated administration of George W Bush made Iran part of their so called "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea. Regime change in Teheran was the goal of the neo conservatives in Washington during the Bush regime.  Accusations were being routinely made about Iran being on the verge of producing nuclear weapons till recently. Threats of military action against Iran became louder, with Tel Aviv avidly prodding Washington. Iran's offer to discuss its nuclear enrichment programme with the West was repeatedly spurned. President Bush has acknowledged that he was under tremendous pressure from his vice president, Dick Cheney and neo-conservatives in the government to bomb Iran in the last year of his presidency.

President Obama too initially rejected all offers of a dialogue with the Iranian leadership during his first term in office. Instead, his administration in connivance with Israel tried to undermine Iran's nuclear programme by unleashing malicious cyber-attacks on Iran's nuclear programmes. In 2012, President Obama offered to talks with the Iranian government on the nuclear issue. At the same time, the Americans unleashed another cyber attack on Iran's oil and gas industry. As Iran continued undeterred with its enrichment programme, despite the military threats and cyber attacks, the Obama administration changed tack and decided to engage Teheran in serious negotiations at the beginning of his second term in office.    

The Iranian president stated that the agreement with the P5+1 will only be fully implemented once the western powers clearly announce the lifting of all the sanctions. Iran's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose backing was crucial to the successful outcome of the negotiations, cautiously endorsed the deal. Khamenei has been consistent in his stance on nuclear weapons. On several occasions, he has said that possessing nuclear weapons is against the tenets of Islam. Khamenei has described the nuclear agreement as a "milestone" while at the same time calling for a "careful scrutiny" of the text. The Supreme leader also warned his countrymen to be vigilant about the "possible violations" of the accord by some of the signatories. The accord has been signed by Iran and the P5+1, comprising of the permanent UNSC members and Germany. Only Russia and China in the group are considered sympathetic to Iran.

In a speech delivered after the end of Ramadan, Iran's spiritual leader said that the nuclear deal would not make the country waver from its principles, pointing out that American policies in the region are "180 degrees" opposed to Iran. He has sent out a strong signal that Iran remains committed to its allies in the region, notably Syria and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, has said that his country would keep on helping its allies in the region. "Whenever it is needed to send arms to our allies in the region, we will do so. We are not ashamed of it", he said on national television in the last week of July. The Obama administration is still bent on destabilising the Syrian government and is training and financing rebel groups. Washington's allies in the region are even supporting jihadi groups like the al Nusra Front. Iran and Hezbollah supported by Russia are supporting the legitimate government of Bashar al Assad. Paradoxically in Iraq, the Americans and the Iranians are jointly fighting the Islamic State (IS).

Iran has indicated that it would prefer to do business with countries like Russia and China as it starts the task of rebuilding its economy. The Iranian leadership wants countries like India and Pakistan, despite their earlier adherence to US mandated sanctions, to be among the first countries to participate in joint ventures. India is already involved in the development of the Chahbahar port. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline could now be extended all the way to India. The largest gas deposits in the world are in Iran. West European countries in their efforts to lessen their dependency on Russian oil and gas are increasingly looking to Iran. Iran's Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, told the media that his government plans to rebuild the country's infrastructure and the oil and gas industry worth $180 billion by 2020.