Autorka: Anna Volfová (IMS FSV UK)

 

Introduction

The question, whether Iran tends to assemble a nuclear weapon or not, has been one of the major issues of international politics for the past decade. After years of failed talks between Iran and the West, escalation of Western sanctions and the subsequent collapse of Iranian economy, the country has changed its attitude. Who is the driving force behind Iran’s new policy? Can the final nuclear deal be reached this November? Is Iran truly to be trusted? Those are the main questions, which I will try to answer in my essay.

Hassan Rouhani

The sudden change in Iranian approach towards dialogue with the Western officials came in June 2013. After years of strict anti-Western stance of the late President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the election of moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani suggested a new twist. Shortly after taking the chair, President Rouhani called for a need of change. He replaced hard-lined nuclear scientists and entrusted Mohammad Javad Zarif, new Iranian Foreign Minister, with responsibility for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.[1] Rouhani later continued with his surprising openness. In September, he appeared at the United Nations General Assembly, where he gave a highly watched speech. He emphasized the need to reestablish relations with the West.[2] Afterwards, he made another historic moment, a phone call with President Obama, which marked the first direct contact between the leaders of Iran and the United States since 1979.[3] Although media watched Rouhani’s steps with great enthusiasm, some observers proceeded with skepticism.

P5+1 Talks

The current talks between Iran and countries known as P5+1 started in 2006. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany proposed an agreement to Iran, which sought to halt the nuclear program in exchange for easing the sanctions. It was due to the fact that Iran only recently confirmed it has enriched uranium for the first time.[4] Although the UN issued altogether six resolutions, it did not have any effect.[5]

As already mentioned, after the election of Hassan Rouhani, the P5+1 talks with Iran were reestablished. The first meeting of the officials came in September 2013, during the UN General Assembly event. Both sides agreed on “parameters of the end game”[6], as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described. The parties met again in October in Geneva, where they issued a rare joint statement. At the same time, Iranian officials met with the International Atomic Energy Agency representatives, to discuss the agency’s further inspections in Iranian nuclear plants. The IAEA confirmed the country’s positive approach towards establishing a cooperation agreement.

After the meeting failed at the beginning of November, the parties continued the talks later that month. The most celebrated agreement to this day was signed in Geneva on November 24, 2013. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, leader of the P5+1 negotiating team, presented a Joint Plan of Action. This agreement set a six-month, five-phase deadline to reach the final deal. The sides agreed Iran could keep stockpile of only 20 percent enriched uranium, while it must enable the IAEA extensive inspections. In return, the sanctions of U.S., EU and the UN would be partially limited and no new nuclear-related would be implemented. Naturally, this agreement caused an immense reaction. Particularly Israel opposed the agreement, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marking the deal as a historic mistake. Although John Kerry assured the deal does not mean the West would decrease its attention to Iran, only the contrary, President Obama had to deal with a severe opposition in the U.S. as well.

The Western sanctions on the export of Iranian oil reached its peak in early 2013, when they made the country’s oil production drop by more than a half.

The Joint Plan of Action was implemented in January 2014. During the course of the year, the parties held meetings each month, mainly to discuss further actions and to work on a more comprehensive agreement. Also the IAEA reports acknowledged Iran’s cooperation. In July the P5+1 and Iran continued talks in Vienna, where they agreed on extending the talks until November 24. This date was therefore set as the day the final agreement should be reached. Although Iran allowed further inspections, it missed the IAEA deadline agreed in November 2013. Iran was also failed to provide information on past activities with possible military dimensions.

Criticism

Critics mostly highlights the fact, that we are still dealing with Iran, one of the most unpredictable and unknown country in the region. What is important to mention, is that Rouhani did not have any other choice. The Western sanctions on the export of Iranian oil reached its peak in early 2013, when they made the country’s oil production drop by more than a half.[8] Also the isolation from the international banking system severely damaged the local currency. Should Rouhani continue with Ahmadinejad’s policy, the country’s economy would most likely collapse terminally. Furthermore, as John Kerry remarked to appease Israel, we must remember his openness concerns only the Iranian nuclear program. Iran still is one of the least democratic countries in the world. Moreover, no matter how Rouhani acts before the West, there are still higher officials in the country, with greater power than the President. On the other hand, the Supreme Leader Khamenei apparently supports Rouhani in his actions; otherwise he would probably be removed.

…with the ongoing Syrian civil war and the new threat of ISIS, Iran may become Western’s relevant partner in the Middle East.

As November approaches

The most recent development of the talks concerns the November deadline. As the deadline approaches, both sides are trying to defend their interests. From one point of view it almost seems the agreement will not be negotiated. Iran is fighting for the preservation of all its centrifuges, while the P5+1 team demands a reduction. Iran also wishes all sanctions to be halted, which seems quite impossible with the United States. Therefore Kerry, with a strong pro-Israeli lobby behind his back, proposes at least maintaining the UN sanctions.

Conclusion

Most experts agree a proper nuclear deal is more important than meeting the deadline. According to some, signing of a comprehensive agreement by November 24 is very improbable.[9] However, it is also clear to everyone that if they want to have the final deal, now is the time. There might not be another opportunity and the past year’s negotiations already signified a serious endeavor on both sides. Also, with the ongoing Syrian civil war and the new threat of ISIS, Iran may become Western’s relevant partner in the Middle East. Although these ideas might seem like a distant future, the Middle East is nowadays evolving unpredictably and the Iranian nuclear deal, if signed, might surprise us just yet.


List of Sources & Footnotes

“Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran, Arms Control Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/Timeline-of-Nuclear-Diplomacy-With-Iran (accessed October 28, 2014).

“Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program”, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/20/world/middleeast/Iran-nuclear-timeline.html?_r=0#/#time243_7912 (accessed October 25, 2014).

“Security Council Resolutions on Iran”, Arms Control Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Security-Council-Resolutions-on-Iran (accessed October 28, 2014).

Laura Rozen, “Endgame for Iran nuclear talks”, Al-Monitor (October 27, 2014), http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/10/nuclear-talks-iran-end-game-sherman-zarif.html (accessed October 28, 2014).

“Q&A: Iran Sactions”, BBC (January 20, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-15983302 (accessed October 28, 2014).

David Simpson and Josh Levs, “Israeli PM Netanyahu: Iran nuclear deal ‘historic mistake’”, CNN (November 25, 2013), http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-israel/ (accessed October 27, 2014).

Statement by Hassan Rouhani, presented before the 69th Session of the UN General Assebly, New York (25 September 2014), http://www.un.org/en/ga/69/meetings/gadebate/pdf/IR_en.pdf (accessed October 25, 2014).

Footnotes

[1] “Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program”, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/20/world/middleeast/Iran-nuclear-timeline.html?_r=0#/#time243_7912 (accessed October 25, 2014).

[2] Statement by Hassan Rouhani, presented before the 69th Session of the UN General Assebly, New York (25 September 2014), http://www.un.org/en/ga/69/meetings/gadebate/pdf/IR_en.pdf (accessed October 25, 2014).

[3] “Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program”, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/20/world/middleeast/Iran-nuclear-timeline.html?_r=0#/#time243_7912 (accessed October 25, 2014).

[4] “Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran, Arms Control Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/Timeline-of-Nuclear-Diplomacy-With-Iran (accessed October 28, 2014).

[5] “Security Council Resolutions on Iran”, Arms Control Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Security-Council-Resolutions-on-Iran (accessed October 28, 2014).

[6] “Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran, Arms Control Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/Timeline-of-Nuclear-Diplomacy-With-Iran (accessed October 28, 2014).

[7] David Simpson and Josh Levs, “Israeli PM Netanyahu: Iran nuclear deal ‘historic mistake’”, CNN (November 25, 2013), http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-israel/ (accessed October 27, 2014).

[8] “Q&A: Iran Sactions”, BBC (January 20, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-15983302 (accessed October 28, 2014).

[9] Laura Rozen, “Endgame for Iran nuclear talks”, Al-Monitor (October 27, 2014), http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/10/nuclear-talks-iran-end-game-sherman-zarif.html (accessed October 28, 2014).