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Post-sanctions Iran will be force for stability


Iran flag and nuclear warning symbolIran’s agreement with five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, dubbed P5+1 in Vienna over its nuclear program has been widely seen a major diplomatic breakthrough.

The deal provides for strict limits on Iran, backed by international inspections and the threat of sanctions ‘snap-back’. In return, it provides for the continued, albeit seriously curtailed, Iranian nuclear program and the lifting of sanctions that have crippled Iranian economy.

This deal still needs final ratification by the US Congress and the Iranian parliament (Majlis). But the UN Security Council has already endorsed it and generated a lot of momentum behind its ratification. Anticipating the confirmation of the deal by the Iranian Majlis, Russia and China have both indicated that they will drop their sanctions.

This is significant achievement for President Hassan Rouhani, who came to office two year ago with the promise of resolving the nuclear deadlock and freeing Iran’s economy from the clasp of international sanctions.

The deal is of course contested. Rouhani faces a hostile Majlis, filled with conservative members. But he has managed to keep his critics at bay through carefully manoeuvring hurdles in the political system. After all, President Rouahni is very much an insider and well-versed in the way the Islamic regime operates.

As the former head of the national security council, he is attuned to the importance of having the support of the Supreme Leader. Rouhani managed to bring along Ali Khamenei throughout the marathon negotiations. Over the course of the nuclear talks, Khamenei continued to support the initiative and at one point reprimanded Rouhani’s critics by saying heroism could also be manifested in negotiations and compromise. This support has been critical to the success of negotiations.

Another point, central to selling the deal to the more conservative members of the regime, is the notion of nuclear energy as a matter of national pride. The government of President Ahmadinejad, much more actively than any previous government in Iran, advocated Iran’s right to have access to nuclear energy and elevated the issue to a matter of national pride, presenting international concerns about a clandestine nuclear weapons program as a smokescreen to deprive Iran of nuclear energy.

This approach closed avenues of talks and led to severe international sanctions. In contrast, the President Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have presented the Vienna deal as an international admission of Iran’s right to generate nuclear energy. They have turned the obstacle of national pride to their advantage by arguing that, not only has the Iranian team not sacrificed its principles but the whole world has come to accept and endorse it. This twist has done a lot to take the wind out of the sail of the critics.

The Rouhani/Zarif team has proven to be politically astute, keenly aware of the intricacies of the system in Iran and enjoying significant popular support for the nuclear deal. The Supreme Leader and his circle are also very much mindful of the damage that international sanctions have inflicted on the capacity of the regime to operate. Given this combination, it is likely that the critics in the Majlis will fall in line.

What would this mean for Iran’s role in the region? Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have been critical of the deal. It is seen to offer Iran a significant financial boost, allowing it to throw its weight around in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia has been most vocal, arguing that a post-sanctions Iran will be a cashed-up source of instability.

Indeed, Iran is unlikely to change its regional policies with or without a deal. But far from being a categorical source of instability, Iran’s policy towards the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is much closer to the United States and the United Kingdom than any other state in the region. This convergence of interest against a common enemy can serve to open up other doors of dialogue and communication with the West and start a relationship that is no longer hostage to the nuclear issue.

Iran’s regional behaviour will not change overnight, but it now has tangible incentives to work with the international community. The nuclear deal has removed a difficult obstacle in the path of normalisation, and whether other states admit it, this can only be a positive step toward regional stability.

Shahram AkbarzadehProf Shahram Akbarzadeh is an ARC Future Fellow at Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation.

Iran nuclear image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Shahram Akbarzadeh, middle east, Iran, IS, nuclear proliferation, UN



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Existing comments

It is to be sincerely hoped that Iran's agreement with the P5 + 1 will be ratified by the Majlis and that relations with the West will be normalised. The majority of Iranians have always voted for the most progressive candidates available to them and the country has a huge educated middle class who often have relatives in the West. The long term monitoring of Iran's nuclear facilities may, or may not, cause problems. The current situation in the Middle East, with Syria and Iraq basically destroyed as cohesive nations, with the ancient Sunni/Shia hatred on the boil and interested parties like Turkey, Israel, the Saudis and others at least on the sidelines, watching if their interests are threatened, is already aflame. What the world doesn't need is Iran entering into the conflicts in Iraq or Syria any more than it is already. What is desperately needed there is not more military intervention but peace and stability which millions in the region do not know and have not known for a long time. It is a tragic irony that the overthrow of one brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein and the attempted overthrow of Bashar Assad have been so horribly counterproductive. Peace, stability and reconstruction in these shattered states now look almost like mirages in the desert.

Edward Fido | 24 July 2015  

Well done on a very balanced and sensible article. This agreement is a triumph for moderation and common sense. It is also a foreign policy triumph for President Obama, as Obamacare was for the domestic scene. He is vilified by Republicans (including many of our US Bishops) but will be remembered for major achievements. The US now has the great strategic strength of being the moderate middle ground between Iran and those that would love to have a violent go at them including Israel and the Sunny Arab and Turkish regimes. There is every incentive for Iran to be a good partner and stay friendly with the US, essentially its shield.

Eugene | 24 July 2015