Iran’s Nuclear Deal Dissolved into Fission?

GLOBAL CENTRE STAGE

One cannot expect any radical change in relations between Iran and the P5+1 as long as both parties are unwilling to make significant concessions, insists Emin Akhundzada, as he analyses the reasons and ramifications of Iran’s nuclear deal

Negotiations for the interim agreement between Iran and P5+1 countries, signed on November 24, 2013, began in Vienna on July 2. In the sixth round, both parties decided to adjourn negotiations until November 24 due to divergent positions on nuclear cooperation and sanctions. Although the parties took concrete steps within six months, these major differences have not been resolved, raising crucial questions about reaching a permanent, mutually satisfactory agreement.

Iran continues to state that it is ready for nuclear cooperation and that sanctions must be lifted immediately. But the West insists on extending nuclear cooperation and maintaining sanctions until Iran can prove that its nuclear program is peaceful. Moreover, Western countries, particularly the US, claim that Iran is trying to obtain nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists that it needs nuclear technology for electricity generation and in the field of medicine. The number of centrifuges used in the uranium enrichment process constitutes a huge conflict between the parties. It is claimed that Iran has approximately 20,000 centrifuges, and intends to increase this to at least 50,000. The West’s position is that the number of centrifuges must be limited to 5,000. Another subject of dispute between the parties is the uranium enrichment rate. Iran wants to increase the uranium enrichment rate to 20 percent, but the West advocates that 3.5 percent is sufficient for the operation of nuclear power plants. Despite these seemingly irreconcilable conflicts, the parties stand for permanent agreement. So what has pushed the parties to reach a deal after years of tensions?

US: Choosing Peace Over War

President Obama opposes nuclear armament, and is concerned about a possible arms race in the region if Iran creates a regional security dilemma by acquiring nuclear weapons. Economic costs for the US as a result of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are high, further exacerbated by the 2008 world economic crisis. Thus, the US does not want another war. Moreover, Iran is very different from Iraq, and a possible war with Iran would not only be a major blow for the US economy, but would also cause instability in the region. In this case, the US is choosing peace over war.

Given that US/NATO troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan in the second half of 2014, the US needs Iran’s support to help fill the vacuum emerging in the region post withdrawal.

Rise of the Iran-Shi’ite Axis

The rise and expansion of extremist organisations in Syria’s civil war is of great concern for the US. A significant number of militants came from Central Asian Republics to Syria to fight for radical groups, posing serious threats to neighbouring states. Iran’s support is essential to bring an end to the Syrian civil war and maintain permanent peace. Experts believe that the West is trying to create a new axis to counter the influence of the region’s huge Sunni population: the Iran-Shi’ite axis. Within the framework of the current negotiations with Iran, the West opens an area for Iran in the Middle East, the Islam geography. It does not stand against the Shi’ite expansion; rather it supports it. Iran’s increasing influence in Syria and Iraq is a key indicator in that respect. The US, which regards Iran as a huge threat to the region (as well as to Washington), believes that Iran’s integration into the system will deter it from supporting illegal organisations. A possible deal with Iran could also help resolve other problems in the region, such as the Israel-Palestine issue.

Iran’s Compulsions

Relations between Iran and the West had reached a breaking point during Ahmadinejad’s presidency, creating serious risks for Iran. Iran wanted to avoid the increasing tension and is believed to be doing so via the nuclear deal. West-imposed sanctions, which represent the worst threat against the current regime, have created great economic difficulties for the majority of Iran’s 77-million population, which consists of young people. Conservatives within the country are aware that an economic crisis will pose a major threat to the current regime. The primary reason for Rouhani’s June 2013 victory was his commitment to end Iran’s isolation and to lift the embargo. His foreign policy strategy includes a permanent agreement with the West, regain access to the frozen accounts abroad, and revive the country’s economy. In order to improve its economic situation and to eliminate domestic political threat to the regime, Iran needs to establish peace with the West.

Sanctions also prevented the transfer of Iran’s energy export revenues of approximately $100 billion. This was because Iran’s energy exports to related countries were only paid to a local bank in that country’s currency. This amount corresponds to roughly 20 percent of Iran’s GDP. Thus, Iran wants to reach a deal with the West so that it can access its assets abroad.

Iran has the fourth largest oil reserves and second largest natural gas reserves in the world. According to BP statistics, Iran has a total of 33.6 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, and about half of these reserves are located in the South Pars field. Iran shares the South Pars natural gas field with Qatar. While Qatar uses this field quite efficiently, Iran’s production rate is relatively low because the technology required in production is licensed by the US. As Iran does not have this technology, it cannot reach the desired rate of production. Moreover, oil production in Iran has significantly declined, as it was unable to sell oil due to oil embargoes, which almost terminated production in many oil wells.

Iran has about 10 pipeline projects to export its energy resources to countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq and Syria. But Iran has not managed to realise any of these projects. Therefore, the country wants to increase production and boost energy exports. Further, Iran is keen to deliver natural gas to Europe, either through Turkey-Greece or through Armenia-Georgia and Ukraine. In order to achieve this goal, Iran needs to normalise its relations with the West.

Possible Regional Impact

If all parties fulfil their obligations and permanent peace is achieved between Iran and the West, regional peace will get a boost. Iran’s suspension of nuclear activities will also come as a relief to other countries. If Iran produces nuclear weapons, it would trigger an arms race in the region and lead to a fragile political situation.

If permanent peace is established between Iran and the West, the possibility of war will come to an end. War between the US and Iran would cause instability in the region. A besieged Iran would try to obtain all kinds of weapons, including noxious chemical weapons, in order to protect itself. It would pave the way for various problems in the region, notably in relation to issues relating to Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

If Iran could be integrated into the international system, it would be more easily controlled by the West. Moreover, permanent peace between the parties would weaken the guardianship system in Iran.

On the other hand, for the US, the Middle East has lost its erstwhile appeal. The US is now able to meet its natural gas demand with its domestic Shale gas production, leading to even exports in the near future. The US imports oil mostly from Mexico and Canada. Thus, Washington’s main problem in the foreseeable future is China. In this case, if the US disregards the Middle East, Iran will have more influence in the region, especially in areas from which the US has withdrawn. This may also reduce Turkey’s regional influence.

A Fragile Deal?

In conclusion, both parties need a nuclear deal. It is obvious that Iran needs these negotiations more than the other side in order to implement a robust economic recovery plan. On the other hand, the US and the West are aware that Iran’s nuclear program is not at the same level as it was ten years ago. In order to reach a permanent deal, both parties will have to make significant concessions, but they are unwilling to do so. Iran wants to continue its nuclear activities, while the West has repeatedly emphasised that there will be no permanent agreement until Iran stops these activities. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that they will not accept anything other than a comprehensive solution that meets these objectives.

From Iran’s perspective, Israel poses the biggest regional threat. Israel strongly objects to the West’s nuclear deal with Iran. Besides, Israel has the largest chemical and biological weapon stocks in the region. As long as Israel’s WMD stockpile is not destroyed, Iran will continue its nuclear energy activities.

Furthermore, the power vacuum that has emerged in the region due to America’s withdrawal from Iraq and the ‘Arab Spring’ is likely to be filled by radical groups and terrorist organisations. After the US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, these vacuums are likely to create bigger problems in the region.

Iran will not give up on its nuclear program easily, because it believes that these groups represent a significant

future threat to its national security. Therefore, the deal between Iran and the West is actually quite fragile. One cannot expect any radical change in relations between Iran and the P5+1 as long as both parties do not make significant concessions.



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Author

Emin Akhundzada

Emin Akhundzada is the Academics and Research Coordinator at the Caspian Strategy Institute.

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