Thursday, July 16, 2015

No bomb for Iran

The agreement of Western powers with Iran over its nuclear programme changes the West Asia chequerboard quite significantly

The objection to Iran's nuclear programme was that it will lead to the making of the bomb, and that Iran with a nuclear arsenal poses a mortal threat to Israel because of the anti-Zionist rhetoric adopted by the ayatollah regime in Tehran. The agreement that has been reached between Western powers led by the United States and Iran in Vienna on Tuesday disables Iran from making a nuclear bomb. There was also the American strategic goal, which is shared by the permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – is that nuclear proliferation should not be allowed to happen. This was indeed the reason that the US pushed for the India-US civil nuclear deal as well, to make India part of the global nuclear protocols regime under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The process followed in the India case was slightly different because India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran however is a signatory to the NPT.

There was the suspicion that Iran pressed on with its uranium-enrichment programme despite its obligations under the NPT. That is why, Iran was placed under crippling UN sanctions. Americans realised that punitive sanctions alone will ensure peace and stability in the region. It was clear that the US could not have gone to war with Iran as it did in the case of Iraq. In 2003, then president George W Bush and then British prime minister Tony Blair had argued that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and this was the pretext for the war in Iraq. The US had recognized that war was not an option in the case of Iran. The Obama administration seems to have also recognised that the crippling economic sanctions against Iran could not be a permanent solution. There was no alternative to a negotiated solution.

While President Obama was ready to pursue the negotiation option, the Iranians too were ready to end the impasse created by the sanctions which was constricting as well as damaging the economy. This was facilitated by the coming of the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, who was himself the chief nuclear negotiator earlier. It was moderated stance on the part of Iran and the US that has propelled the talks. The fact that Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, a US-educated diplomat, has made the talks a smooth affair. But the negotiations were tough and both sides had bargained hard. While both the Obama administration and the Rouhani government are keen that the two sides abide by the terms of the agreement, it is clear that the implementation of the agreement would remain as tough as the negotiations.

Israel is not convinced that its security is ensured. It is not just Israel's security, which remains a prime concern for the US, that was at stake. Saudi Arabia has not been comfortable with Iran's nuclear programme because it felt that this would lead to the dominance of Iran. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia remain critics of the agreement and they prefer that Iran is kept under a permanent sanctions regime Washington was keen to reach an agreement with Iran because of its own view what the balance of forces should be in West Asia. Washington believes that keeping an important and large country like Iran will be a distortion of the balance of power in the region. The Americans perhaps believe that with Iran re-integrated into the power system, it will be possible to use Tehran's influence over the Bashar Assad government in Syria and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon to maintain peace in the region. This might be a tall order but there is no doubt that Iran working with the US makes it so much more easier for the Americans to deal with the tortuous politics of the region.

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