BY all accounts, a “framework” agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme is likely to be concluded by end-March between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and US). A full agreement is to be finalised by end-June.
Although the precise elements of the agreement are as yet not known, it appears, from public information, that it will include:
— limits on Iran’s centrifuges (to ensure it would take it at least 12 months to have enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb, or ‘breakout capability’);
The peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue would be a major achievement for President Obama.
— expatriation of most if not all of Iran’s existing stocks of highly enriched uranium;
— reconfiguration of Iran’s sole nuclear reactor (Arak) to operate on low enriched uranium rather than highly enriched uranium, blocking the plutonium route to a bomb;
— application of enhanced full scope IAEA safeguards on all of Iran’s nuclear facilities;
— Iran’s acceptance of the IAEA’s Protocol II authorising “anytime, anywhere” inspections (to ensure against “sneak out”);
— Iranian agreement to “clarify” outstanding questions about some of its alleged past nuclear activities (relating to trigger mechanisms, warhead designs etc).
— a finite time (at least 10 years) for the expiration of the agreement (to indicate that the extraordinary restraints , beyond those required of NPT parties, accepted by Iran, are temporary and will not be applied in perpetuity).
In exchange, Iran will secure an explicit recognition of its “right” to enrich (as an NPT party) and the progressive lifting of UN and unilateral US and Western sanctions imposed on Iran.
The peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue would be a major achievement for US President Obama and form an important part of his “legacy”. In Washington’s polarised political environment, this is sufficient reason for the Republicans to try and sabotage the deal.
They are unlikely to succeed. The address by the Israeli prime minister to the US Congress, at the unilateral invitation of the house speaker, angered Obama and failed to turn the American public against the deal. A majority, including important Jewish groups, favour a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Netanyahu’s arrogant speech, and the subsequent open letter from 47 Republicans to Iran, alienated many Democrats, even those who entertain doubts about the deal. In the circumstances, if Congress adopts legislation designed to impede the agreement, Obama will veto it and a super majority will not be available to override the presidential veto.
Once the deal is done, UN sanctions will be eased, with US assent, by the Security Council and Obama will use his executive powers to lift some of those imposed unilaterally by the US. Even a successor Republican president will find it difficult to renounce the agreement or re-impose sanctions once the strategic benefits of the deal for the US become fully visible.
Iran’s ‘hardliners’, loath to see President Rouhani and the ‘moderates’ gain greater domestic popularity, may also attempt to scupper the agreement. But, the rehbar — Ayatollah Khamenei — is unlikely to allow a balanced agreement to be overturned by the hardliners since its economic and strategic benefits for Iran will be significant.
The economic gains will include: access to Iran’s frozen foreign assets; participation in the international banking and trade system; larger oil and gas exports; and substantial financial and technical investment. The positive impact on the daily lives of Iran’s people will be tangible and immediate.
Although US Secretary of State John Kerry has vowed that the US is not negotiating a “grand bargain” with Iran, the strategic fallout from the nuclear deal appears almost inevitable. Open coordination between the US and Iran to defeat the so-called Islamic State in Iraq; an Iran-brokered agreement with the Assad regime in Syria; Iranian help to secure the cooperation of Shia and Tajik groups to stabilise Afghanistan; Iran’s influence to restrain the Shia Houthis in Yemen, the Shia parties in Bahrain and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The US may also try to persuade Iran to cut off its support to Hamas.
While Iran looks forward to strategic “breakout”, Saudi Arabia fears strategic encirclement, with both Iraq and Syria firmly within the Iranian sphere of influence; Lebanon under Hezbollah and, through it, Iranian dominance; a Shia revolt in Bahrain; the Shia Houthis in control of Yemen’s capital, and its strategic patron (the US) moving towards diplomatic normalisation and tactical cooperation with Iran. The Saudis, like the Israelis, believe that an unshackled Iran will assert itself more aggressively in the region.
The Saudi security dilemma is compounded by Sunni movements which also threaten the kingdom internally and externally. The Islamic State rampages in the north while Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plots in the south. And, the influence of the rival to Wahabi Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood, has tentacles within the Gulf states.
In these circumstances, the Saudis are presumed to be looking for security support from Pakistan — a nuclear weapon state — in accordance with a long-standing strategic agreement that reportedly exists between the two countries.
Islamabad should be sensitive to Saudi Arabia’s legitimate security concerns and provide support against the internal and external threats facing the kingdom. Saudi stability and prosperity are in Pakistan’s national interest. Such a security role will enhance Pakistan’s diplomatic leverage. At the same time, Pakistan should ask for effective action by Riyadh to halt the covert financing from its territory of Sunni extremist groups operating in Pakistan, some of which are linked to Al Qaeda and the TTP.
It will be essential to ensure that Pakistan’s security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not perceived as aimed against Iran. One way of doing so would be to develop effective cooperation with Iran to eliminate the Sunni insurgent groups engaged in destabilising Pakistani and Iranian Balochistan and take credible action to provide full protection to Pakistan’s Shia minority.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2015