IT was in June 2013 when Hassan Rouhani became president of Iran and he promised to sort out nuclear issue with the west. It took two years to reach an agreement with P5+1 in July 2015. It’s been a year of the nuclear deal now. The deal (JCPOA) was indeed a big development in the face of power politics in the Middle East having profound political and economic implications for whole of the world.
There were logical reasons for the new president of Iran to melt ice with the west on the nuclear impasse. Rouhani came to power with support from reformists in Iran who wanted to solve the nuclear issue with the west so that multifaceted sanctions on Iran could be lifted, economy be stabilized and public is relieved from the tough economic crisis at home. Rouhani also wanted to build economic and diplomatic relationship with the west in order to end an isolation of his country and to address skepticism of the western countries about Iran’s nuclear program. Some hardliners in the Iranian establishment were not happy over the Rouhani’s government initiative for any compromise over Iran’s nuclear program.
US had been regularly talking of using military force against Iran in order to destroy its nuclear installations; however, there were involved high potential risks. Washington and western world desired to end the mess with Iran politically. They wanted to have an access to Iran’s nuclear sites through IAEA inspectors to keep a check on the activities there, thus limiting its capability to make a nuclear weapon within break out time of one year. Reason
US closest allies—Israel and Saudi Arabia—expressed their concerns on the nuclear deal fearing that the deal would provide Iran an opportunity to access its frozen accounts in the western banks having billions of dollars, $100bn. This big amount of money could be utilized by Iran to undermine their national interests in the region in shape of an active support to Syrian government and Hezbollah, a Shia resistance force based in Lebanon.
It is hard to say at this stage that whether the deal has proved productive for both parties or otherwise. However, in case of Iran, the government seems disappointed; many high-level officials in Iran have criticised Washington for not fulfilling its promises. President Rouhani in a recent live television interview confessed that West is not fully carrying out its obligations under the deal. He criticised Israel, US congress and some regional countries for creating obstacles. Likewise, Supreme leader Ali Khamenei while addressing a gathering on 27th death anniversary of the leader of Islamic revolution, Rohullah Khemeini, said that cooperation with the US was a mistake and Iran will not cooperate with the US on regional issues anymore. While, Iranian parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, said that Iran is left with no choice but to confront the US. Very recently, Iran executed Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist, for revealing the country’s top secrets to the US.
Iranian public support for the deal has also dropped after a year. Lots of people celebrated the deal on the roads of Tehran when it was inked in July 2015. Recent poll shows that 62.2% Iranians thought all US, EU, UN sanctions would be lifted under the agreement, now only 23.4% think the same. Interestingly, 72% said that they have no confidence that the United States will meet its obligations. Also, 73.7% of the population feel that their living situation is the same since the deal was signed. According to another survey, public opinion in the US was also negative about the deal, 30% of Americans approved the deal while 57% disapproved.
An important question here is that what Iran has achieved so far out of the deal. It has reduced stockpile of enriched uranium, uninstalled thousands of working centrifuges, and allowed IAEA inspectors to monitor its nuclear activities. Conversely, some sanctions are still imposed on Iran, and frozen assets have not been released in total. Washington is now targeting Iran’s missile development programme through new sanctions. Iran claims that its missile programme would continue, as it does not come under the nuclear agreement. It seems like that US under pressure from Israel wants to limit Iran’s defence capabilities to the maximum extent possible. However, this might not be promising because Iran’s nationalistic leadership would not compromise on the country’s defence in the face of severe existing threats to its national security.
The sum and substance is that future of the deal is ambiguous. There exists suspicion from both sides about each other’s intentions. Regional security environment of the Middle East does not favor trust-building exercises between Tehran and Washington. In such a scenario, breach of the deal could anytime lead to its termination by any party. Worth mentioning is that terms and conditions are very important part of any bilateral or multinational deal in the international anarchic system. The formula of protecting national interests in international power politics is to play well diplomatically and politically. Iran has competent leadership and it took them months to finalize a deal with the west. It may not be easy for the US to continue breaching the deal and it ought not to do so because this may permanently close the possibility for Iran to compromise on its nuclear program. The double standard policy of the US may not work in case of Iran. Further, it would also damage US image before the international community.
— The writer is affiliated with Strategic Vision Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.