The Iranian deal
After years of thorny negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 countries, consisting of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, finally reached an agreement on July 14 to control Iranian nuclear enrichment program.
Regardless of the heavy criticism from hardliners on both sides and regional powers, especially Israel, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a genuine historic achievement, particularly for the U.S. President Barack Obama, who has been trying to reach a deal with Iran since he came to power. It is also a significant step for Iran’s reintegration into the regional and international system after years of isolation.
The agreement though will have repercussions for the regional balance of power. According to the detailed and highly technical JCPOA, Iran agreed to limit its amount and level of uranium enrichment, eliminate or transfer its stockpile of enriched uranium and continue its limited-level enrichment activities in a designated location.
In return, Iran will get gradual relief from the sanctions the U.N. Security Council has imposed since 2006 and unfreeze some of its foreign assets following extensive surveillance on its enrichment sites.
Although there are criticisms over the time limitations of the agreement or the lack of “anywhere, anytime” access clause, which is perceived as a cheating opportunity for Iran, the agreement will enable greater oversight of the Iranian nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Despite its perceived shortcomings, reaching an agreement between global powers and Iran through negotiations is an important success for diplomacy. It will curb Iranian enrichment activities for at least fifteen years.
It is still early to see whether Iran could easily reintegrate into regional and international systems or whether it will attempt regional domination. However, reactions from some of the regional countries -- especially the Sunni bloc under the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Israel -- have clearly showed their dislike for the deal and their intent to make it difficult for Iran return to the mold. Despite its credibility issues in the Middle East in general, the Obama administration has been trying to reassure its allies regarding the U.S.’s longstanding regional priorities and policies, in case things do not work out as planned with Iran.
The concerns of Sunni Arab countries emerge from a possible scenario of an aggressive Iran, which would transform its expected economic gains into political and sectarian influence in the region. Although sectarian competition has always been an integral part of the Middle East politics, it has taken an upsurge in recent years. The Sunni-Shiite divide has recently turned into proxy conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The nuclear agreement might add another layer to the ongoing competition and conflicts in the region.
The best-case scenario, which admittedly does not seem very probable at the moment, would be ending the thirty-five-year animosity between the U.S. and Iran, and the beginning of cooperation on common threats such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Such an outcome could also pave the way to find solutions to other ongoing regional problems such as Syrian civil war, disturbances in Yemen and instability in Iraq. And, of course, the time will finally come to deal with Israeli-Iranian animosity, as well.
But, we should not be carried away with enthusiasm as yet. For now, the Obama administration has achieved a breakthrough that defied previous administrations. It postponed the nightmare of nuclear race in the Middle East. One hopes that the agreement will survive the subsequent ratification and implementation processes, and contribute to the peace and stability in the Middle East.