Iran and the United States reached a historic nuclear arms agreement on Tuesday. The deal, which was agreed with five other major world powers, is designed to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons. The agreement was brokered in a Vienna hotel, and binds not only Iran and the United States, but also Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, to a series of undertakings in the coming years.
According to President Obama, the agreement with the Middle Eastern nation was the best available option for the United States government. There is apparent concern among the hierarchy of the US administration that the Iranian government is seeking to enrich Ukrainian with the ultimate aim of developing a nuclear bomb.
Iran deal widely proclaimed
Aside from the United States and Iran themselves, other countries’ political leaders have been queuing up to proclaim the agreement. Pakistan welcomed the nuclear agreement in a statement, while the UN chief Ban Ki-moon also congratulated the parties involved. Syrian President Basharul Assad, a major ally of Iran, described the deal as a “historic agreement”, and looked forward to a “major turning point in the history of Iran”. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond predictably supported the agreement, while even Russia’s Vladimir Putin proclaimed the cooperation involved.
It seems that the only voices of dissent were part of the United States political process. Republican House speaker John Boehner suggested that the deal would “embolden” Iran, while Senator Chris Coomes posed the following rhetorical question to Obama: “Who wants their legacy to be a deal that is barely approved by the narrowest of margins and is opposed by the majority of Congress?”. Perhaps it was too much to expect bi-partisan support within the Senate and Congress!
While Obama has proclaimed the deal as an excellent one for the stability of the Middle East region in particular, his Iranian counterpart also suggested that the agreement represented a new phase in Uranian relations with the West.
History of US-Iran relations
Although Western media is proclaiming this agreement as the end of a 10-year cycle in which all parties have been negotiating continually, the reality is that the United States and Iran have been entwined historically for much longer than this. The contemporary relationship between the two countries can be traced back to the 1950s, and specifically the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, often referred to in the West as Operation Ajax.
By overthrowing the democratically elected and popular government of Mohammed Mossadegh, and then replacing it with a dictatorship, the seeds were sown for much of the instability in Iran which has followed in the coming decades. It is often asserted that he primary motivation for this particular action was ensuring a cut of Arabian oil revenues for the United States and United Kingdom. And indeed the reference to the ‘Seven Sisters’ oil companies that operated in Iran and formed the ‘Consortium for Iran’ cartel, emerged as a direct result of this military and intelligence agency action.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of Iran’s history, it is still presumed by those that are sceptical of the motives of the United States and Western powers with regard to Iran that factors other than nuclear weapons are ultimately motivating conduct toward the nation. Iran is among the nations with the largest oil reserves on the planet, fourth behind Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada according to OPEC figures, and it is frequently suggested that the United States ultimately desires a favourable regime to be in place in the country for this reason. Similarly, the US Administration has been publicly hostile towards Venezuela and Hugo Chavez in the past.
What is interesting about this particular agreement is the multi-polar nature of it. When Chavez experienced diplomatic pressure from the United States, he reportedly turned to Russia and China for assistance. Increasingly, geopolitical activities on the most public stages in the world will see the United States and its allies come into conflict with the new power base defined by Russia and China. So it is intriguing that this particular agreement has been successfully brokered by all of these parties, effectively locking all countries into a tacit agreement, no matter how uncomfortable this may be in reality.
It will be intriguing to see how long this particular deal lasts without dissent, and whether the disparate nations that have signed it can actually retain relatively positive relationships should differences of opinion emerge. For example, the United States has stated previously its belief that Iran was attempting to develop a nuclear weapon, but there are strongly differing opinions regarding this reality. Critics argue that any tangible evidence emanating from Washington on this matter was conspicuous by its absence, and it is not difficult to envisage this causing problems in the foreseeable future.
Should the US administration feel that Iran is behaving in an inappropriate or irresponsible fashion, it could suggest that the nation has breached the terms of the agreement. At this point, it is not at all difficult to envisage that Russia and China would strongly dispute the position of the United States, perceiving it to be attempting to profit from the agreement. This could turn into a much greater political hot potato that it may appear today.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the issue and the fragility of this particular peace, it will still be viewed by most people as a relative positive. Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, has described the agreement as among the most complex and consequential of the nuclear age. And considering the absolutely deadly consequences of nuclear weapons, the prevention of their further spread must be considered a good thing for the stability of the planet.
Iran to reduce enrichment
Under the terms of the agreement, Iran will reduce its existing enrichment by two-thirds. It has also agreed to cease the utilisation of its underground facility at Fordow for enriching uranium. The country will also reduce its existing stockpile of low enriched uranium two just 300 kg. To put this figure into perspective, it represents a 96 percent reduction.
Clearly these are good things for a region that has been particularly unstable in recent years. Whatever one feels about the cause of these particular problems, it would be hard to argue that another nation in the Middle East acquiring nuclear weapons would be a positive outcome. However, it could be asserted that Western powers are taking something of a hypocritical attitude toward Iran, considering that Israel has never signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty (not to mention India and Pakistan), yet is frequently suspected to be in possession of full-scale nuclear weapons.
Assessing the political hypocrisy and moral ambiguity of the situation is for another day. What can be said at the moment is that this deal represents an opportunity for the people of the world to live in a slightly safer state, while offering Iran the chance to increase trade with other nations by the elimination of existing sanctions.
What should be said in mitigation is that it is extremely unlikely that we have heard the last of this saga considering the geopolitical players involved.