The test of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the international community always lay in the ability of the two sides to go beyond the nice rhetoric and implement the promises made.
The European Union led the way by rolling back some of the sanctions that had been imposed. The Iranians have now reciprocated by halting uranium enrichment in one of their plants in the presence of international inspectors — and are expected to do the same elsewhere. Over the next months, the two sides will carry out further steps. More and more sanctions will be lifted, especially those restricting Iran’s ability to export crude oil. Tehran, in turn, will impose further curbs on its nuclear activities and convert its fissile material stockpile into harmless oxide.
Though the path forward remains tricky, these developments are positive. There has been remarkably little squabbling between the two sides so far. The Iranian government recognises that its economy is in a shambles, it is politically isolated and needs relief as soon as possible. The Western governments leading the charge on the other side have accepted a temporary freeze and partial nuclear rollback. The endgame will not be as easy because there remains considerable divergence about how this should end. Tehran will have to understand that economic sanctions are always easier to impose than lift. The West needs to accept that the complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear programme is unlikely to ever happen.
Iran also needs to consider taking steps to reassure two non-Western countries which are lobbying hard for a nuclear deal that ends with a non-nuclear Iran — Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both have made it difficult for the United States to follow the EU in easing sanctions. Israel, because it can independently carry out military action against Iran, is arguably the country Iran should be focusing on. However, as the economic fruits of the deal begin to be apparent, the hope is Tehran will become more ambitious in evolving from a disruptive revolutionary power into a responsible visionary international player.