ISSSP Reflections No. 11, January 13, 2014
Authors: Mr. Viswesh Rammohan
The United States along with five other world powers and Iran finally signed a deal on Iran’s nuclear program on November 24, 2013. A series of steps was agreed upon by both parties for the next six months, during which a broader deal would be negotiated. Relations between the West and Iran had soured since the 1979 Iranian revolution and the recent agreement is considered as the first step to a permanent resolution. The initial agreement implies that Iran will undertake the following voluntary measures:
1) Uranium enrichment above 5% is halted for the next six months. This would keep Iran below the threshold for making weapon grade material and at the same time allows for sufficient fuel for the Bushehr reactor, which is currently Iran’s sole nuclear reactor for its energy production.
2) The stockpile of 20% enriched Uranium that Iran possesses was another important point of consideration. About half of the 20% enriched stocks would be downgraded to 5% enriched fuel. The remaining part of the 20% would be used for fueling the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).
3) Though the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow have been allowed to continue, Iran is not allowed to make any further additions in its activities there. No new centrifuges can be installed and enrichment capabilities cannot be increased for the next six months. However, Iran is allowed to replace the ones that are damaged with centrifuges of the same type.
4) All work at the Arak reactor has to be suspended. The Arak reactor has been a common talking point and a point of concern in the negotiations. Arak which is a heavy water plant produces between 5-10 kilograms of Plutonium per year as by-product which can be used in nuclear weapons. Iran has announced that it will not commission the reactor or transfer fuel of any form to the reactor site. The claim itself seems rather far-fetched as Arak is nowhere close to completion.
Though this has been mentioned in the agreement, the agreement makes no mention of R&D activities at Arak. This leaves some ambiguity, particularly in case of Arak since the R&D activities there are crucial for Iran to overcome the technical challenges in operationalising the reactor.
5) Enhanced monitoring has been another key point under discussion. Enhanced monitoring includes providing information about its nuclear facilities to the IAEA, agreeing on the safeguards approach for the reactor at Arak and ‘managed access’ to IAEA inspectors to inspect storage facilities, uranium mines and centrifuge assembly workshops.
If Iran meets its commitments, the world powers have agreed to not impose any further nuclear related sanctions on Iran and to suspend sanctions on trade in important areas such as gold, automotive industry and petrochemicals. Perhaps the greatest boon for Iran will be the provision of allowing repairs for certain Iranian airlines within Iran. It is estimated that Iran will get a relief of approximately $7 billion over six months. Nearly $4.2 billion will be frozen oil assets which are in foreign banks. To put this number in perspective, Iran has lost close to $120 billion in revenue because of sanctions from the US and EU. Considering the huge amount of $120 billion, $4.2 billion only forms a small fraction of the assets.
The deal however received rather hostile reactions from the region. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab monarchies have viewed Iran and its interests as a threat since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a ‘historic mistake’. Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon has just added to the concerns of Israel. The Arab monarchies have always maintained that Iran has tried to reduce their hold on the region by supporting Shia factions. Even though Israel and the Arab world despise each other, Iran has been a converging point of interest. There is also fear amongst the US allies in the region that the Iranian deal will come at their cost. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have been rather vocal. Israel has maintained that it is not a part of the deal and military options against Iran are always open. Saudi Arabia on the other hand, has told the world that they can procure a nuclear weapon from Pakistan, if the need arises.
It is important to look at the agreement for what it is. The dynamics of the region have been fragile over the past few years. Iranian politics itself seems to be slowly changing. The election of Rouhani as President has sparked hope in many circles. To add to international hostility, both the US president and the Iranian president have a lot of domestic compulsions to deal with. Within a day of the announcement of the formal deal, US senators were pushing for more sanctions citing concerns that taking the heat off Iran at this time would be counterproductive. The lack of support for Obama administration’s Iran policy in the Senate is going to be a huge challenge amidst the deal running its six month course. On the other hand, Rouhani might also face problems at home. The last time Ahmedinejad tried to make progress on the nuclear deal, he faced a stiff backlash from various groups in Iran, notably the clergy.
In spite of the hostile reactions the deal has received and possible domestic compulsions, the Geneva interim agreement is a useful starting point. Its provisions allow Western powers to address their suspicions regarding the Iranian nuclear programme while providing some relief to Iran from sanctions which have stymied it economically. The six month interim period is a good chance for both parties to try and keep up their side of the measures. Any concrete plan that emerges will have to take into account considerations of both parties and only time will tell what sort of plan will emerge. But the Geneva interim agreement has shown some hope that a solution – which might contribute to greater stability in the context of the region and more so, for Iran’s re-integration into the world – might be in the offing.
About the Author
Viswesh Rammohan is Research Associate, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at visweshrammohan[at]gmail[dot]com
Picture Courtesy: The Muslim Times