At the time of writing, the International Energy Association, the international organisation designed to monitor nuclear energy and weapons, has recently begun monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, as Iran has started curbing the enrichment of its uranium. This is one of the first and most important steps in the implementation of a deal that took headlines around the world. The deal concerns the infamous Iranian nuclear program and the sanctions that have been placed on Iran because of it.
The deal is significant because it indicates a rapprochement between the United States and Iran, as it is the closest that these states have been since 1979, whereupon the new revolutionary Iranian regime began referring to the US as ‘the great Satan’. It is also significant, because it places restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, a program that has worried states around the world and in particular American regional allies like Saudi Arabia and especially Israel. The deal, which took effect on 20th January, limits the enrichment of uranium to just 5% and it requires that any of Iran’s uranium that has been enriched to 20% be ‘neutralised’. 5% and even 20% is far short of what is needed for a nuclear weapon and is more in line with what is necessary for nuclear power, which is what the Iranian regime states is the purpose of their program. (An explanation on the heavy water plant at Arak, used for the creation of plutonium, an element which can only be used in nuclear weapons, is not as forthcoming.) The deal also prevents Iran from creating any more centrifuges, which are used for uranium enrichment. In turn, the P5+1 (the United Kingdom, Russia, China, the United States, France, known as the P5—the permanent members of the United Nations security council—plus Germany) will not impose further sanctions and will transfer £2.6 billion to Iran for the sale of some of its oil. Current sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical, gold and precious metal, and automotive industries will also be temporarily lifted. So what Iran gets is temporary easement for its embattered economy, and what the P5+1 get is dialogue with Iran, a state with a very isolated and fiercely ideological political executive.
This is only an interim deal, meaning that it is temporary and that it will expire in six months. This limited time frame is where the deal becomes interesting. What the deal did was limit the Iranian regime from expanding the quantity of its nuclear program by limiting the number of its centrifuges. What it did not do was prevent the quality of the existing nuclear program from improving, in that it does not prevent the Iranians from conducting further scientific research on nuclear reactions. By giving the Iranians a sizeable portion of money, though not sizeable enough to truly help the economy, the P5+1 may have given Iran exactly what it wanted. What the P5+1 desired was to give Iran incentive to come back to the table in six months’ time and to give Iran a show of good faith – the money and trust were samples of what could be on offer if Iran comes back into the international community of states. What they may have done is given Iran money to continue research into its nuclear program, a program that many fear is designed to yield nuclear weapons. Given Iran’s political and ideological outlook and isolation, a nuclear Iran scares many people. As well it should.
The P5+1 have shown a lot of trust in a state that does not deserve it. As a supporter of the radical and violent terrorist organizations HAMAS and Hezbollah, not to mention a supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, a regime that is figuratively and almost literally covered in blood, Iran is not a country that is likely to yield to normal rationality anytime soon. The regime is revolutionary and therefore loses its legitimacy when it begins to diverge from its goals of an Islamic revolution, one that would implement Sharia law and have catastrophic consequences for Israel and all Western states that practise secularism. Therefore, for the sake of its legitimacy in the eyes of its domestic supporters, it must continue on the path it has trodden and it cannot waiver. The Iranian regime is very pragmatic but only insofar as that pragmatism is designed to keep the revolution afloat. When the P5+1 agreed to sanctions it gave up far more than it got and it released pressure on a state that will not yield to any other type of communication. When all of the parties to the negotiations return to the table in a short while, the P5+1 will be in a weaker position and Iran in a stronger one. Whether Iran will come back to the table in six months’ time is not a given. If it does, it will be expecting to get far more than what it got the last time around, and it may be expecting far more than any state is willing to give.