Iran is almost there. After decades of isolation following the 1979 revolution, after being designated as part of an ‘axis of evil’ and portrayed as a toxic influence in the region, the nuclear agreement between Iran, the US and five other powers potentially clears the path for the stigmatisation of Iran to end, and restore its rightful place in world affairs.
The framework agreement, which will be followed by a ‘final text’ by the end of June, is a triumph in several respects. US President Barack Obama doggedly pursued negotiations weathering the aggressive public diplomacy of Republican Congressmen and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani persuaded hardliners to allow negotiations to continue.
The agreed ‘joint plan of action’ on Iran’s nuclear programme has astonished observers for the level of detail it provides. It has been crafted to convince sceptics in Israel, Saudi Arabia and, importantly, the US Congress, which will aim to approve or reject the final text.
Mr Obama will try to persuade Congress pointing to the deal, which is overwhelmingly framed in terms of Iran’s obligations, often using punitive language that will rile its domestic hardliners. Tehran has agreed to a serious rollback of its nuclear programme in exchange for a phased suspension of some sanctions imposed by the US, UN and European Union.
Iran will reduce its installed centrifuges for enriching uranium from 19,000 to 5,060; it will not enrich uranium over 3.67% nor build any new enrichment facilities for 15 years.
It will allow the IAEA unprecedented access to all its nuclear facilities, uranium mines and supply chains. The IAEA will take control of excess and newer generation of centrifuges; Iran will redesign its reactor at Arak and will not undertake research on uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years. Steps like these will ensure that the ‘breakout’ time for Iran to make a bomb increases from the current two-three months to at least one year.
In return, Iran will get sanctions relief; all past UN Security Council resolutions will be lifted as Tehran fulfils its obligations. Sanctions on procuring sensitive technologies and ballistic missiles will remain, but Iran’s economy is expected to pick up, much to the relief of its millions.
All this can still be scuttled by intransigent politicians in the US Congress. The world hopes that they will rise beyond partisan politics and look at the bigger picture. Iran is critical for regional stability.
This deal freezes its nuclear ambitions for 20 years and will likely generate internal pressures for reform by reopening its links with the world. The alternative, as Mr Obama implied, is either war or a nuclear arms race in West Asia. Backing the deal is a no-brainer.