By Gaurav Sharma
Iran on Tuesday completed a landmark nuclear deal with the six major world powers led by the US, an accord which could possibly herald the end of its long-standing stand-off with the West.
The deal envisages curtailment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for lifting financial and economic sanctions which has crippled the Middle-Eastern nation for more than four decades.
The fine-print of the deal
Under the rules enunciated by the Joint Comprehensive plan of action, the 159 page document governing the multilateral agreement, Iran will continue to hold its nuclear infrastructure subject to the caveat of capping and partially rolling back its uranium enrichment plans.
The nuclear program will henceforth work under the monitoring and intrusive inspections of the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA).
Iran will have to reduce its stockpile of uranium enriching centrifuges and convert its Fordo enrichment site into a research centre. The nearly built reactor at Arak will have to be redesigned so that it cannot produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Sanctions and Embargo
Although Iran has maintained its nuclear program for more than a century, in 2002 it was barraged with economic embargo and financial sanctions following the Western intelligence agencies’ uncovering of two covert facilities–a Uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy plutonium facility at Arak.
The Western powers contended that there were several peaceful ways of producing nuclear power but these particular facilities were hallmark entities dedicated to producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.
The ‘revelation’, sparked an international alarm calling for the reining-in of Iran’s nuclear program, keeping in mind the launch of USA’s war in Iraq, an all-encompassing onslaught also initiated under the pretext of a “secret nuclear weapon programme”.
Talks between Iran and the E3–France, Britain and Germany started the following year but failed to reach any consensus. Iran continued its enrichment plan and refused to answer the many questions that IAEA posed after 2006.
In 2009, another covert facility was discovered near Iran’s holy city of Qom following which the UN Security Council passed a total of 8 resolutions against Iran.
By then Washington had passed several sanctions of its own against Iran, for non-nuclear activities such as terrorism and human rights violations. With the sanctions against Iran rising rapidly, the European Union(EU) also passed a sweeping oil embargo which compounded Iran’s economic survival.
The exclusion from Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions(SWIFT) made basic transactions a struggle and further tightened the noose on Iran.
The present consensus struck in the UN headquarters in Vienna is a follow-up of the secret diplomatic talks which began in 2013 between the US and Iran in Muscat, the capital city of Oman.
The agreement spells triumph for President Hassan Rouhani, elected two years ago on the plank of reducing the Islamic nation’s economic isolation.
Although it will take months before Iran receives the actual benefits of the lifting of sanctions, once the deal is implemented Tehran’s coffers will be wealthier by a humongous $100 billion in frozen assets. Oil exports which have been slashed to two-thirds will also be spurred.
With the reintroduction of the Iranian oil supply, global crude prices are expected to fall. The boost in availability will bring cheer to major importers such as India, thereby reducing the government’s subsidy bill. Transportation and insurance costs will likely fall too.
India’s connectivity plans with Central Asia via rail and road projects(North South Transportation Corridor) will be stepped-up following the expansion of footprint in Iran.
The much expected Chabahar port, which will give sea-land access to Afghanistan will become a reality by December 2016, providing access to crude oil and urea. Access to Afghani highways through the Iranian road network will help in safeguarding India’s strategic interests in the landlocked nation.
For Iran, the lifting of the international embargo will give it more economic muscle. More funds would mean more guns—the funding of the Shiite militia of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
However, the Sunni kingdoms of Middle East led by Saudi Arabia are likely to take a hawkish view of the situation and will further intensify the Sunni-Shia conflict which is engulfing Persian Gulf by the day.
Also, US ally Israel fears that Iran will use the financial resources to buy sophisticated weapons for Hezbollah, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarking that the nuclear deal was a “historic mistake” and may result in appropriate military action.
As a reminder to US’ flawed decision making, Israel unearthed videos of 1990’s when US diplomats appeared confident to avert nuclear threat from the pariah state of North Korea, but failed miserably.
Meanwhile, China and Russia have made clear their plans to supply weapons to Iran, holding it as a key customer in the Middle East.
On the other hand, Obama and the Western powers who supported the deal, argue in favour of the deal by bringing to light the fact that the “breakthrough time”– the amount of time required for Iran to manufacture a bomb has been extended by an year, a ‘considerable increment of nine months’.
Further highlighting the efficacy of the deal, Obama underscored a “snapback” mechanism under which sanctions against Iran would re-emerge if the deal was violated.
Be that as it may, the contentious issue of Israeli and Saudi reaction to the Iranian nuclear infrastructure remains a pertinent threat. The nightmare of a nuclear arms race in the fragile Middle Eastern landscape may become an abhorrent reality.