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Iran & P5+1: Will hardline spin doctors look to derail deal?

Nile Bowie
Nile Bowie is an independent writer and current affairs commentator based in Singapore. Originally from New York City, he has lived in the Asia-Pacific region for nearly a decade and was previously a columnist with the Malaysian Reserve newspaper, in addition to working actively in non-governmental organisations and creative industries. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.
Iran & P5+1: Will hardline spin doctors look to derail deal?
The deal on Iran's nuclear program is promising, but differences among the parties threaten the fragile pact. Israel and members of Congress call for more pressure, and Saudi Arabia signals nuclear ambitions in response to changing geopolitical climes.

The agreement clinched in Geneva between Iran and major world powers is the Obama administration’s most significant diplomatic achievement, and though ‘all options’ remain on the table officially, cooler heads in Washington and Tehran have both understood that even a modest deal is preferable to maintaining the status quo.

The US and Iran have different interpretations of the agreement and its impact on the right to enrich uranium in the long term. Though the current six-month interim agreement technically allows uranium enrichment to continue at 5 percent, Iranian FM Javad Zarif believes that a comprehensive deal eventually brokered after the current pact will fully accept Iran’s uranium enrichment process within the bounds of international law, while at the same time lifting all the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

On the other hand, Secretary of State John Kerry maintains – with maximum condescension – that “there will be a negotiation over whether or not they could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program, where they might have some medical research or other things they can do, but there is no inherent right to enrich.

The carefully-worded presentation of the pact – delivered by Obama and Kerry with trademark arrogance – was intended to ease the concerns of US hawks, Saudi spinsters, and Israeli belligerents as diplomats unveiled the most significant agreement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution.

After a landmark international debut at the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and FM Zarif have solidified their administration’s diplomatic prowess by successfully hammering out an interim deal, which is – though far from perfect and only modest at best – a reasonably fairer offer extended to Tehran than anything on the table during Ahmadinejad-era nuclear talks. 

Rouhani came to power in a landslide victory on the promise that he would restore Iran’s international standing and resolve the nuclear standoff, and both the Iranian public and its political establishment – including Supreme Leader Khamenei and the majority of parliamentarians – have responded to the deal in a positive way. Zarif is absolutely right to assert that this deal is just the beginning; the principle aim of the Rouhani administration is the full removal of the sanctions, even at the expense of hyper-intrusive borderline insulting IAEA inspections.

S Secretary of State John Kerry (L) reacts next to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (C) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a plenary session on early November 24, 2013 in Geneva. (AFP Photo)

Mother of all red herrings

The Iranian nuclear issue is deliberately framed to Western audiences in a way that ambiguously suggests an “imminent breakout,” Iranian intransigence, dishonesty, and ill-intent, while a simple truth is consistently obfuscated from the narrative: there is no evidence that suggests the existence of a military component to Iran’s nuclear program, nor is there any evidence that Iran’s leadership has plans to develop nuclear weapons. The basis for the "Iranian threat" is entirely political.

At no point has the IAEA reported conclusive evidence of a military dimension to Iran's nuclear program, and in fact, Tehran has done more than most other countries to address concerns that its enrichment program may be diverted to non-peaceful uses, including placing additional restrictions on its enrichment process by ratifying additional protocols to allow for rigorous inspection by the IAEA.

Iran's Supreme Leader has consistently declared that the proliferation of both chemical and nuclear weapons is religiously prohibited in the Islamic Republic; even while Saddam Hussein's forces used chemical weapons against Iran in the ’80s, Tehran never moved to proliferate chemical or nuclear weapons.

For John Kerry to say that the interim deal makes the world safer implies that Iran posed some short of existential threat, which both evidence and objective logic do not support, especially when Israel – an openly-racist, openly-unlawful, hyper-militarized European settler-colony – maintains undeclared arsenals of chemical weapons and nuclear warheads outside the purview of any international treaty or monitoring organization.

The paradoxical double standards imposed on Iran in the face of Israel’s blank check to commit war crimes and break international law is utterly stupefying. Despite facing absurd hypocrisy, Tehran has maintained ‘heroic flexibility’ in agreeing to the interim deal, which would unfreeze $6 billion to $7 billion in sanctions relief; modestly relieving restrictions on the country's trade in gold, petrochemicals, car and plane parts; allow purchases of Iranian oil at their current levels; allow the government to transfer tuition assistance funds to Iranian students in third countries; additionally, no new nuclear-related sanctions are to be imposed during the six-month window.

In exchange, Iran must halt enrichment above 5 percent and dismantle technical connections required to enrich above that amount; it must not install additional centrifuges of any type and must not construct additional enrichment facilities; it must not commission or fuel for the Arak reactor and it must allow IAEA inspectors daily access to nearly every aspect of the nuclear program.

srael's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Meanwhile, in Israel

Tel Aviv has Iran accused of being "months away from the bomb" for over two decades, and Israeli PM Netanyahu uses every opportunity to lambast Tehran in international speeches, often relying exclusively on dubious or highly debatable claims to delegitimize Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu has unsurprisingly rejected the interim deal with Iran, calling it a “historic mistake” and laying on the hyper-theatrics.

Even from a hypothetical Israeli standpoint, one could argue that any threat Iran could have once posed is now significantly neutralized due to strict monitoring that Tehran has agreed to. Iran isn’t enriching uranium anywhere near the 90 percent needed to make a bomb, and so the persistent defiance of Netanyahu has become a visible annoyance to the Obama administration, and even British Foreign Secretary William Hague has told him off.

Much of the US Congress and the Israeli lobby are very unhappy about this deal, and are preparing increased economic penalties to impose on Tehran if any part of the deal is breached. The cool heads in Washington that were responsible for clinching this agreement should keep hardline elements in check. The biggest concern for Iran is that the other side will falter, thereby unraveling all the diplomatic acrobatics needed to cut a deal in the first place, thus creating a climate of total distrust.

In an interview with NBC news, FM Zarif made his position crystal clear, “If there are new sanctions, then there is no deal. It’s very clear. End of the deal. Because of the inability of one party to maintain their side of the bargain.” 

The current Iranian government is bent on cooperating and ending the economic deadlock imposed on their country. Any perceived breach of the agreement by the Iranians – which would likely be only a marginal or accidental technicality – could instantly become politicized and used by opponents to argue for more pressure to collapse the fragile peace.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (AFP Photo)

Nuclear Wahhabis?

A recent report published by the BBC citing intelligence sources suggests that Saudi Arabia may be looking to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan after years of substantial financial assistance to Pakistan’s defense sector. The timing of these reports, released just prior to the Iran talks, are curious given that most of the intelligence sources originate from Israel, which suggests that this information could have been intended to pressure world powers into taking a zero-tolerance stance on Iran’s nuclear program.

The chairman of Riyadh’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Abdullah al-Askar, was recently quoted expressing alarm over the changing geopolitical currents of the region.

“I am afraid Iran will give up something on to get something else from the big powers in terms of regional politics. And I'm worrying about giving Iran more space or a freer hand in the region,” he said, before openly calling for Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons if the Iranians were not prevented from building a bomb.

The Lebanese al-Manar channel has also reported that during Kerry’s recent trip to Riyadh, he called on Saudi officials to dismiss Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan from his post over the Obama administration’s deep unhappiness with Saudi tactics used on the ground in Syria.

The US-Saudi rift has been growing by the day following Prince Bandar’s calls for Riyadh to distance itself from the US after the Obama administration agreed to the Russian chemical weapon disarmament plan and reneged on striking Syria. If these intelligence sources are correct, it’s possible that the Saudis may acquire nuclear weapons as a response to a historic thaw in US-Iran relations.

Washington’s response to these developments will make or break Saudi-US relations. Much like Israel, the Saudis have been given a trump card to break international law and commit deplorable human rights violations. 

The real ‘historic mistake’ would be for the Obama administration to continue turning the other cheek on Tel Aviv’s nuclear program and Riyadh’s bombastic aspirations, while leaving President Rouhani’s call for a nuclear-free Middle East out in the cold.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.