The Iran debate
President Obama continues to promote the Iran nuclear deal in the face of overwhelming "nays" at home and drawing the ire of staunch allies in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. The greatest defence for Mr. Obama is what happens if there is no deal. That argument has been under attack on the premise that the deal, should it be inked, would merely empower Iran to go on destabilising the region – an argument not entirely unfounded. Iran continues to be a major bulwark for holding up the Assad regime in Syria, providing direct military support to Iraqi militias in neighbouring Iraq, helping out Houthi rebels in Saudi Arabia's backyard Yemen and aiding Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Some of the main conditions in a future argument as per a report published in The Guardian on July 14 states that the agreement will entail a two-thirds reduction in Iran's enrichment capacity. Iran will stop using the underground facility at Fordow for enriching uranium. One of the most ambitious targets will be for Iran to reduce its stockpile of low enriched uranium to 300kg, which represents a reduction of 96 percent and the remainder be diluted and shipped abroad. Arak nuclear facility will have its heavy water core redesigned that will be unable to produce significant quantities of plutonium. Under the agreement, UN inspectors will have full access to enter both civilian and military sites suspected to be involved in nuclear activity. Only when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed Iran's compliance in reducing its nuclear programme will sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the US and EU be lifted. The restrictions on export of conventional weapons to the country will remain for another five years (eight years in the case of ballistic missile technology). "If there are allegations that Iran has not met its obligations, a joint commission will seek to resolve the dispute for 30 days. If that effort fails it would be referred to the UN security council, which would have to vote to continue sanctions relief. A veto by a permanent member would mean that sanctions are reemployed. The whole process would take 65 days."
Critics of the upcoming accord have pointed out that Iran will not play by the rules and may continue a covert programme for uranium enrichment outside designated nuclear facilities covered under the agreement. To this, President Obama went on the record with Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times in April, 2015: "In the first instance, what we have agreed to is that we will be able to inspect and verify what's happening along the entire nuclear chain from the uranium mines all the way through to the final facilities like Natanz," the president said. "What that means is that we're not just going to have a bunch of folks posted at two or three or five sites. We are going to be able to see what they're doing across the board, and in fact, if they now wanted to initiate a covert program that was designed to produce a nuclear weapon, they'd have to create a whole different supply chain. That's point number one. Point number two, we're actually going to be setting up a procurement committee that examines what they're importing, what they're bringing in that they might claim as dual-use, to determine whether or not what they're using is something that would be appropriate for a peaceful nuclear program versus a weapons program. And number three, what we're going to be doing is setting up a mechanism whereby, yes, I.A.E.A. [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors can go any place."
The notion that Iran cannot be trusted or deterred is a notion that is born of decades of distrust and ideological differences. Perhaps the whole anti-nuclear deal with the Iran lobby has more to do with regional balance of power than anything else. That Iran has managed to survive and indeed, extend its geopolitical reach with the Middle East through proxy wars, despite the crippling sanctions is what has American allies in the region worried. The other point of contention is that a lifting of sanctions would allow for a full-fledged return of Iran's oil in the world markets. Although some fear the entry of the 40 million barrels of oil Iran has in its inventory will create a glut, that is far from the truth, as years of sanctions have crippled the world's fourth largest oil producer's capacity and will take time to rebound.
The accord is yet to be inked. There are serious negotiations ahead. Policymakers on both sides are embroiled in serious disagreement on timelines over a plethora of issues ranging from inspections to lifting of sanctions. Signing of the accord and its implementation will take at least eight months from now, given that it may take up to 60 days for Congress to deliberate on the draft agreement. The issue of lifting sanctions is very much hinged on how well nuclear inspection goes. Fears of a re-energised Iran are somewhat misplaced given the number of hurdles it must cross before it can come to that state.
The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.