On Monday, the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 nations — the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China — kicked into the first phase of its implementation. The deal, which has the potential of changing the geopolitics of the South-west Asian region, if not the world, is as of now a series of steps through which Iran will begin the process of stopping and rolling back its nuclear programme, in exchange for the western countries easing sanctions that have crippled its economy. The whole process will be confirmed through a final agreement which will be negotiated over the next six months by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Mutually beneficial: India needs Iran for its energy needs as well as access to Afghanistan via Chah Bahar port.
Given the history of the long and tortuous negotiations between Iran and the western countries over its nuclear programme in the past decade, fingers are crossed in respect to the final agreement. Some hardliners in Iran have actually hailed the deal, but there are many naysayers in the US, especially in its powerful Congress who are skeptical.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are unhappy for their own reasons. The White House, for its part, is also playing it cautious and its statement noted “With respect to the comprehensive solution, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
Put simply by the end of the six month period, Iran’s uranium stockpile would have been diluted to an enrichment cap of 5 per cent, though it will continue to hold the stockpile it has and have the capacity to enrich uranium to the 5 per cent level. It will have stopped work in the Arak reactor and desisted from building reprocessing facilities which could enable it to also obtain plutonium to make nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons require a core of plutonium, or uranium enriched to above 90 per cent. 5 per cent is what is sufficient for reactors that generate power.
The P5+1 and EU will commit themselves to temporarily shelve the sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and material imported for use in its motor industry, suspend efforts to block Iranian crude purchases around the world, allow trade in bullion and return $4.2 billion seized from Iran in tranches over the next six months.
Iran has had nuclear ambitions ever since it was ruled by the Shah of Iran. But following the revolution of 1979 that brought its current Mullah-led regime into power, Iran had formally abjured from chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. In any case, Iran was a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state.
However, in the 1980s, the Iran-Iraq war probably brought a re-think in Teheran. The country suffered grievously in the war, losing hundreds of thousands dead. Further it could not but have been aware that the Iraqi aggression, including chemical weapons attacks had the passive support of the West.
The mullahs began thinking of getting some nuclear insurance and probably authorised a clandestine programme.
From the mid-1990s, the Iranians asked the Russians to resume work in the Bushehr nuclear plant which had been damaged by Iraqi attacks. But Iran obtained technology from multiple sources, including the notorious A Q Khan network.
In 2002, an Iranian dissident organisation revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak, subsequently in 2009, Iran itself admitted to building another enrichment plant at Fordow.
Iranian offers for a “Grand Bargain” failed when the Bush Administration refused to accept Iranian bona fides. Later the EU took up negotiations with Teheran. But the negotiations failed and the IAEA, though it said it could not definitively say Iran was making nuclear weapons, formally reported the country to the UN Security Council which has imposed as many as six sets of sanctions on Teheran.
The P5+1 negotiations have been going on since 2009, but recent developments have led to its success. First, the United States directly entered into the negotiations instead of cold shouldering Teheran. Second, the change from the abrasive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency to that of the pragmatist Hasan Rowhani has aided the process. Third, the sanctions have bitten deeper than Teheran thought they would and the Iranian economy has been devastated by them. Because of the sanctions, Iran not only has difficulty in getting customers for its oil, but also finds it difficult to get either technology or finances to develop its considerable oil and natural gas assets. Fourth, not only is the US no longer dependent on Persian Gulf oil, but it has learnt that Sunni extremism is a far greater danger than the essentially conservative Iranian mullah regime. Fifth, in the Obama administration, Iran has an interlocutor which is willing to do business in contrast to the Bush administration.
The developments have vindicated India’s position which is that Iran had the right to enrichment, but not to make nuclear weapons. Further New Delhi resisted efforts to block oil imports from Iran. India needs Iran for its energy needs as well as access to Afghanistan and Central Asia via Chah Bahar port.
India’s decision in 2009 to vote with the US to censure Iran in the IAEA is still resented by Teheran. India and Iran are, in their own way, natural allies, a fact underscored by the increasing anti-Shia nature of Pakistan. We need them more than they need us and so we must begin the process getting Teheran off its great sulk against us.
The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.