George N. Tzogopoulos
(Political and Media Analyst, Author of the Books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (I.B.TAURIS, 2012) and The Greek Crisis in the Media (Ashgate, 2013).
An agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme had seemed like an almost romantic hope before Sunday 24 November 2013. The intransigence of Tehran to co-operate with international standards and the isolation policy applied by Washington was leading negotiations to an impasse for many years. The election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013 was certainly a significant development contributing to a better understanding. But it was rather the success of foreign ministers and diplomats from six different countries which finally paved the way for the breakthrough. In particular, the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom agreed with Iran after a marathon of talks to impose limits and rollbacks on its nuclear programme in exchange for a modest easing of sanctions.
The most ambiguous part of the deal is that Iran will be able - for an interim period of six months - to enrich uranium up to 5 per cent. This is the level needed for a civilian power reactor but creates scepticism as to the real motivations of Tehran. Additionally, there is no straightforward or clear agreement about military sites based in Iran except for a vague term that a joint commission will deal with past and present concerns. In that regard, the Financial Times reports that Western powers suspect that Parchin was being used by the leadership of Iran to develop a nuclear warhead.
In spite of widespread enthusiasm at the international level, the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme has caused frustration in countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia and in neoconservative circles in the United States. As far as Israel is concerned, its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advocates for a hard-line approach vis-à-vis Tehran as he does not believe in the sincere motivations of its leadership, even after the election of Hassan Rouhani. For its part, Saudi Arabia has a substantial Shiite minority in its oil-east part and cannot but suspect that Iran might motivate and support a potential unrest of this minority causing serious problems for the stability of the country. Additionally, neoconservative politicians and intellectuals as well as hardliners in the United States fear that developments will be rather similar to the ones related to the nuclear programme of North Korea noting that Pyongyang has practically shown no will to co-operate with the international community.
It is also interesting to explore why Iran decided to overcome the intransigence of the previous years and sign the interim accord with the Six Powers. Here, the argument of George Friedman from Stratfor is compelling. Specifically, Friedman connects Tehran’s stance to its will to preserve the regime. In his view, the Green Revolution of 2009 - although suppressed - has naturally created serious fears for future revolts within the country similar to the ones of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The Iranian leadership is of course well-aware of the public opinion’s ire on daily calamity stemming from the economic embargo. Within this framework, it decided to make a compromise in Geneva in order to achieve a better treatment by the United States and the European Union.
Should we be optimistic for the future? No specific answer can be given because the scenario of Tehran bluffing cannot be excluded. Nevertheless, the interim agreement signed in the capital of Switzerland certainly deserves a chance. President Barack Obama will have a long way to go not only persuading the Congress not to vote for a new round of sanctions against Iran but also to keep his country’s relations with Israel at a satisfactory level.