Negotiating with Iran: Stability versus security
Diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, made up by five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, are racing against time in an effort to sketch up an acceptable framework for a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program ahead of the scheduled deadline of March 31, 2015. If they succeed in this round, this will give them another three months to reach a final agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear activities before the final deadline at the end of June 2015. This deadline itself was extended by the negotiating parties on Nov. 24, 2014. Even though the negotiators are doing their utmost to stick to the timetable, the divergences among parties, not only between Iran and P5+1 countries but also among the P5+1 countries, have damaged the prospects.
The scale of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity, the time frame of the agreement, transparency and timing of lifting sanctions are the major splitting points. As things stand today, the P5+1 will allow Iran to keep around 6,000-8,000 operational centrifuges, but tighten the controls over Iran’s research and development activities to ensure it would take at least one year to complete the necessary processes to build a nuclear bomb. In exchange for such a deal, which might stretch out at least 10 years, the sanctions against Iran will be gradually lifted. However, every part of this deal is still disputed by the negotiating parties and the interested outsiders.
The insistence of France on more stringent measures and a longer time span, for example, has caused disagreement with the U.S. at the last minute. To complicate things, Israeli officials visited France this week in an attempt to prevent, or at least delay, a deal with Iran.
Additionally, although there has been no change in the dynamics of the negotiations on the table between Iran and the P5+1 since last November, time constraints and domestic pressures by hardliners both in Iran and the U.S. have added a new layer to existing difficulties. Most recently, 47 Republican senators in the U.S. Senate signed a letter, in a very unusual way of intervention into foreign policy, warning Iranian officials any deal signed with the Obama administration will last less than two years. Although the tough stance of the Republicans against Iran is well known, it will undoubtedly complicate the already problematic trust issue.
Thus the approaching deadline is crucial for both U.S. President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, to sustain their initiative on the negotiations. President Obama, as a lame duck president, has been feeling intense congressional pressure mainly on his foreign policy record. A deal with Iran might alleviate some of the pressure at home and might provide leverage in the Middle East, particularly in fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Rapprochement between U.S. and Iran might pave the ground to find a solution to the Syrian civil war.
The regional actors, such as Israel and Gulf States, on the other hand, are not happy with any deal with Iran, as this would clearly tip the balance of power in the region in favor of Iran. Besides, even many Iranian and Middle Eastern experts in the U.S. are favoring a military option to prevent a nuclear Iran. The Obama administration, on the other hand, believes that such an option has to be the last resort, as it would surely bring more chaos to the already unstable Middle East.
A negotiated deal might prevent nuclear proliferation and bring stability to the region. Yet, the main concern in the minds of the negotiating parties should be to seek ultimate security, not only short term stability, since long term consequences of a bad deal might be worse than no deal.