December 01, 2013
Geneva Accord: A Breakthrough

THE agreement reached at in Geneva between the P5+1 powers and Iran on the nuclear issue represents a diplomatic breakthrough.This interim agreement for six months has the potential for a comprehensive settlement to be worked out. The agreement has come after repeated rounds of negotiations between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, plus Germany on the one hand and Iran on the other. By this accord, Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 5 percent strength. It will dilute the existing enriched uranium of 20 percent strength. Iran has also agreed to enhanced monitoring and inspection by the IAEA. In return, the Western powers have agreed to relax some of the sanctions and to release some of the Iranian oil funds which were frozen. These are estimated to be worth $ 7 billion for Iran. Iran has consistently maintained that it has the right to enrich uranium as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The interim agreement provides for Iran continuing to enrich low level uranium. The United States continues to maintain that Iran has no right to enrich uranium fuel and this has not been conceded in the agreement. Iran has refused to accept this and points to the right being accorded to enrich uranium upto 5 percent. The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has provided a correct interpretation of the agreement by stating that “We agree with the necessity to recognise Iran’s right to peaceful atom, including the right to enrichment, with the understanding that all questions we currently have for the program will be settled and the whole program will be put under the IAEA’s strict control.” These different interpretations are an indication of the problems that still lie ahead in arriving at a comprehensive agreement. But it is clear that both sides have made some compromises. Behind the success of the Geneva accord is the silent diplomacy which has taken place between US and Iranian negotiators in the past few months. The significance of the Geneva accord lies in the fact that the Iran nuclear issue has been the instrument wielded by the US and the Western powers to isolate and impose stringent sanctions on Iran. At the height of the neocon Bush administration days, the aim was to effect a “regime change” in Iran. Underlying the current nuclear dispute has been the unrelenting hostility of the US towards Iran since the 1979 revolution which overthrew the pro-Western Shah regime and ushered in an Islamic republic. President Bush took this hostility further after the 2001 terrorist attack on the US, when he declared Iran as part of the “axis of evil” along with Iraq and North Korea. The nuclear issue came to the centrestage in 2006. Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As such it has the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and to have the full nuclear fuel cycle including the right to enrich the fuel. It is this right to enrich that was contested by the US and the West. They accused Iran of taking steps to build nuclear weapons. In a vote in the IAEA in September 2005, the matter was referred to the UN Security Council and sanctions were imposed on Iraq in terms of its acquiring equipment which would help develop its nuclear weapons technology. The UN imposed other sanctions subsequently on Iran acquiring technology related to defence. The United States, unilaterally imposed stringent sanctions meant to strangle Iran’s oil industry and its financial sector. In July 2012, the EU imposed an oil embargo on Iran. The US was acting in tandem with Israel which considers Iran to be the main threat in the region. The US has also utilised its traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to heighten the isolation of Iran. After the ouster of Saddam Hussain and the occupation of Iraq, the US and its Arab allies concentrated on destabilising Syria, which is closely allied to Iran. The result has been that the civil war raging in Syria has seen the extreme Islamic fundamentalist forces taking charge of the fight against the Basher Assad government. The United States’ strategy in West Asia has only stoked sectarian conflicts and the Islamist forces. This has been seen in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria. The Syrian conflict was threatening to spill over to the neighbouring countries. President Obama had to withdraw from a military strike against Syria after the diplomatic efforts of Russia. The diplomatic breakthrough on Iran has come in the background of this diplomacy in Syria. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are unhappy over these developments. The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has called the Geneva agreement a “historic mistake”. Israel continues to threaten military action against Iran. Saudi Arabia which openly expressed its anger at the US not proceeding with the military action on Syria is also disappointed with the agreement in Geneva. Within the United States, President Obama faces opposition to any rapprochement with Iran. In the US Congress both Democratic and Republican representatives are threatening more sanctions against Iran unless it surrenders its nuclear rights. Despite all these hurdles which require to be overcome, the Geneva accord is still a major step forward. In Iran, it has become possible after the changed situation after the election of Hassan Rouhani as the president. The United States has also been compelled to recognise the dangerous implications of the whole region getting destablised in the wake of the Syrian conflict. With the imminent withdrawal of American troops from Afghanisatan, it has to reckon with the role Iran can play as a regional player in stabilising the situation in Afghanistan. The settlement of the nuclear issue with Iran will also be beneficial to India. Here it is pertinent to note that the UPA government acted against India’s own interests when it succumbed to the US pressure and voted against Iran in the IAEA in September 2005 which enabled the matter to be taken up at the UN Security Council. The UPA government went back on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. India subsequently caved in to the US pressure of sanctions and India’s oil import from Iran was halved. Till 2011, Iran had been the second biggest supplier of oil to India. Now with the United States moving for a rapprochement with Iran, India can only rue its shortsighted and craven stance. (November 27, 2013)