By Josh Zuckerman
After months of negotiation the P5+1 and Iran have finally come to a preliminary agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement is designed to warm relations and build trust between Iran and the international community. The negotiations for the final deal are set to take place in six months. The tentative terms of the deal are as follows:
The international community agrees to:
• Suspend US and EU efforts to increase unilateral sanctions against Iran
• Allow Iran to continue exporting oil at its current levels
• Suspend US and EU sanctions on Iranian petrochemical and precious metals
• Un-freeze limited levels of Iranian funds held abroad
In return, Iran agrees to:
• Not enrich uranium over 5% for the duration of the agreement
• Dilute half of its 20% stock to 5% and retain the other half “as working stock of 20% oxide for fabrication of fuel”
• Refrain from further construction on any of its nuclear facilities
• Not build any plutonium reprocessing plants
• Allow an enhanced monitoring regime of all its facilities including the Arak reactor
The Iranian nuclear deal not only concerns nuclear non-proliferation but also about regional geopolitics as well. In terms of non-proliferation, this deal seems to be a win. As Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institute explains, the Iranians agreed to virtually eliminate all its weapons grade uranium, cease producing weapons grade uranium, stop construction on all its nuclear facilities, and allow for an unprecedentedly strict inspections regime. In exchange for all of this, the international community eased sanctions amounting to about $7 billion of revenue for the beleaguered Iranian economy. This may sound like a lot but consider that Iran has already lost $120 billion due to the sanctions. Iranian oil exports are down 60% and will remain at that level, and Iran will still earn $30 billion less from oil exports in the next six months than at pre-sanction levels. The only accurate criticism of the deal, shrewdly argued by the likes of Mark Dubowitz and the Center for the Defense of Democracies, is that the deal does not force Iran to deconstruct its illicit nuclear facilities there by physically inhabiting its ability to produce weapons grade material. While this is true, such issues can only be decided in a final agreement. All in all, the tentatively negotiated deal by and large favors the international community and has to be considered a limited victory for nonproliferation.
Regionally, however, the results of the deal are not as clear. As predicted, the Israelis have voiced profound disapproval of the deal. The Israeli criticism, however, is far more nuanced than appears. As Natan Sachs of Brookings notes, the purpose of the Israeli criticism is to harden the negotiating position of international community for the next round of negotiations in six months. Sachs also notes that Israeli protests against Iranian rapprochement with the West may be due to an agreement with Saudi Arabia in which Israel articulates publicly what the Saudis privately believe. The real riddles are what effect this deal will have on Saudi nuclear ambitions and if this deal will help foster peace in Syria.
Critics of the deal accurately note that the Saudis have signaled that if Iran breaks through the nuclear threshold, then Saudi Arabia would be prepared to purchase a nuclear weapon from Pakistan. In my opinion, this scenario is very likely. Logically, it may seem unlikely that Pakistan would pursue such a deal given the fact that the US is its top economic and military beneficiary. However, the Saudis are flush with money and aid for Pakistan, displacing the need for American assistance, and the Pakistanis have a long history of playing double games with the US. The second riddle is the case of Syria. In the midst of a brutal civil war, it may seem unconscionable that the US would provide any aid to Assad’s most vital ally. In the best-case scenario, Obama has a plan to reassure the Saudis and will use this deal as an avenue to coax Iran into negotiations to end the Syrian bloodbath. In the worst case, the Saudis purchase their bomb, the Syrian conflict devolves into full-scale regional war, and the US hightails it out of the Levant region. Hopefully, Obama is pursuing the former, but only time will tell.
Photo Credit: Taken Nov. 10, 2013 by Flickr user Madhu babu pandi