Iran nuclear deal boosts peace-making efforts in Middle East

2013-11-25 13:23

The historic nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers at the weekend has the potential to boost efforts at peace-making across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

The deal could signal the beginning of the end of more than 30 years of hostility between Iran and the United States (US) which greatly assisted in creating a political environment in which many conflicts have taken place. These include the Iran/Iraq-war, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the on-going struggle between Israel and its Arab enemies. The current civil war in Syria is a continuation of this trend where the US is directly and indirectly confronting Iran through, amongst other measures, its allies in the Gulf. A more accessible Iran might just create the space needed for the Geneva 2 conference to be reconvened, ever so slightly opening the door to a diplomatic solution. Much will depend on the influence of Moscow and Teheran on President Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to negotiate despite rebel groupings’ insistence that he would not be allowed to stay on in a new dispensation.

Better relations between Iran and the US should result in a shift in US foreign policy in the region. The US is already showing its traditional allies, most notably Israel and Saudi Arabia that Washington is beginning to take a broader diplomatic view on Mena. One of the consequences of this view is a more independent US, not necessarily aligning itself unconditionally with its allies in the region.

Israel’s concerns are however not unfounded. It is of the opinion that the deal will leave Iran’s nuclear fuel-producing infrastructure intact, leaving the door open to the development of a nuclear weapon at a later stage. There is also the possibility that Iran may continue with the development of such a weapon in secret and hope to have it completed before being discovered. A case in point is Iran’s Fordow-plant which it disclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) only after it was discovered by Western intelligence in 2009. The plant is situated at Fordow and has been carved into the rock underneath a mountain. According to the IAEA it should be informed of the planned construction of new nuclear facilities in the designing stage of such facilities. It was clearly not the case in this instance.

But, it would still be very hard for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon under the conditions of the deal. One of the main reasons for this is daily inspections of enrichment plants at Fordow and Natanz, as well as inspections of rotor production facilities and centrifuge assembly stations. In effect Iran would have to construct an entire new nuclear fuel cycle in secret, which would be extremely difficult to do. Then there is also the question of testing such a weapon without anyone noticing.

The core of the interim accord (a final deal is to be negotiated within the next six months) is the suspension of uranium enrichment above a purity level of five per cent. In addition Iran will not be allowed to increase its enrichment capacity or its stockpile of enriched uranium, and will have to suspend the development of its Arak heavy water reactor. In return some sanctions to the value of an estimated $7bn would be relaxed against Iran. This will enable Iran to revive its trade in gold and precious metals, its petrochemical exports and boost its automotive sector. The stumbling block is the recognition of Iran’s right to enrichment. Iran maintains there cannot be a way forward unless it retains its right to enrich uranium. The US, on the other hand, denies this right saying Iran would require negotiated consent.

Irrespective of the difficulties ahead, the deal signals progress in a broader process towards peace and stability in the region. More importantly, the accord can be seen as a precursor to more political freedoms for those inside Iran. As Iran’s engagement with the outside world gains momentum, so will calls from the inside for greater political representation and human rights.

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