A few days ago, a major diplomatic breakthrough was made possible after two years of hectic negotiations between Iran and P5 plus Germany, to broker a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. The standoff between Iran and the international community is more than a decade old when then the IAEA obtained evidence of Iran seeking nuclear capability and confronted Iran in 2003. The matter was referred to the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations, the EU and the United States placed stringent sanctions against Iran. The diplomatic option to break the logjam got a boost when the elections of 2013 in Iran brought President Rouhani to power. He fought the election on the agenda of renewed engagement with the West to bring an end to Iran’s isolation. The agreement reached in Vienna on July 14, is the culmination of efforts that resulted in the Lausanne framework in April 2015.
According to the deal, for 15 years, Iran will carry out enrichment only at the Natanz facility and will only enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent. The stockpile would not exceed 300kg of uranium hexafluoride or equivalent chemical forms. No heavy water will be produced or accumulated for 15 years and Tehran will seek to use reactor designs not requiring heavy water.
Further, Tehran pledges not to conduct research that could conduct development of a nuclear explosive device, as specified in a technical annex to the agreement. The Fordow facility is to be converted into an internationally supported technological center. Some of the centrifuges currently placed there would be allowed to continue spinning, but they would only produce stable isotopes and not enrich uranium.
Iran will also modify the Arak nuclear reactor with the help of the international community. It will be used for peaceful research and isotope production. It will not produce plutonium. Spent fuel will be shipped out of Iran for entire lifetime of the reactor.
The inspections regime is the strongest element of the deal. Inspectors from the IAEA will be monitoring the only two mines where Iran can get uranium ore, the fuel for a bomb, and the mills where it’s processed. They will keep tabs on every single centrifuge in the country, as well as the centrifuge factories, the machines that could be used to make a centrifuge, even on imports of technology that could be used to build a centrifuge.
The UN Security Council will lift its nuclear-related sanctions from Iran simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation of certain measure by Iran. The EU and the US will lift their sanctions, including on banking services, insurance, sale of aircraft parts, access to airports and a multitude of others, at the same moment. Proliferation-related sanctions will be lifted eight years after the adoption of the agreement or when the IAEA gives a go-ahead.
Critics of the deal, based in the US and the Mideast, have denounced it as an agreement that allows Iran to take a ‘patient approach to its nuclear program’. They further lambaste the concessions part of the deal, as the most vulnerable point, which will be used by Iran to further arm its affiliate armed groups waging proxy wars in the region. Prime Minister Netanyahu has, in an interview, described it as a ‘very bad deal’, which poses the most grave security threat to Israel. But a dispassionate analysis reveals weaknesses in the skeptics’ arguments.
Iran has agreed to give up 14000 of its present 20,000 centrifuges and also accepted to abandon 97 per cent of its enriched uranium. Arms control experts view the deal as a tool to effectively limit Iran’s capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. The nuclear watchdog is to monitor uranium stockpiles and centrifuges in Iran, including with modern surveillance measures like online enrichment measurement and electronic seals. A commission made up of a range of IAEA members would be set up to judge whether the inspectors’ access requests are justified. Experts also reject the possibility of completely clearing the traces of uranium in 24-day request processing period and hence the destruction of evidence.
The apprehensions regarding increased interference of Iran in Middle Eastern politics are also exaggerated. Notwithstanding Iran has vowed to continue supporting its allies, including Hamas and Hezbullah, a major chunk of money generated from sanctions relief will be funneled into the domestic economy that is presently facing serious difficulties. A scholar has put it as “Iranian meddling across the region will get worse in the wake of an Iran deal — but it was going to get worse anyway.”
A few days ago, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayotullah Khamenei, also came out on in support of deal, which has mollified concerns about the approval of deal by Supreme National Security Council. After expressing his unequivocal support for the deal, Khamenei, in his speech, on the occasion of closing of the month of Ramzan, also reiterated that the deal would not alter the dynamics of overall hostile relationship with the US and they will remain ‘adversaries’. He also said that slogans of ‘Death unto America’ and ‘Death unto Israel’ would continue to be heard in Iranian streets. But this rhetoric need not be taken seriously as the Supreme Leader intended to calm down domestic hardliners who considered the nuclear deal as abject surrender before the West. In America, the agreement has been submitted before the US Congress for its review and ratification in 60-day period. Despite all the reservations raised by Republicans, the deal can be termed as the best possible compromise or, as Obama put it, the best available alternative to war.
Previously published in The Nation.