© Josh Sager – November 2013
On November 24th, diplomatic representatives from Iran and the P5+1 announced a preliminary anti-proliferation deal which would trade an easing of economic sanctions on Iran for concessions in the Iranian nuclear program. While this deal is short-term—lasting only six months—it is a promising precursor for a more comprehensive and permanent agreement between Iran and rest of the international community.
The P5+1 was formed in 2006 in order to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and is composed of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the USA, France, China, Russia, and the UK) being joined by Germany (a major Iranian trade partner). This deal is the first major breakthrough of the P5+1’s negotiations with Iran.
Under the 2013 agreement, Iran will made dramatic changes to large portions of its nuclear program:
- Effective immediately, Iran will stop refining any nuclear material past 5% purity and will not install any new centrifuges (used to refine radioactive material).
- Iran will begin diluting half of its 20% purified uranium (keeping the half for research purposes).
- In order to confirm its compliance, Iran has agreed to let the International Atomic Energy Agency run daily checks on their nuclear enrichment sites as well as the workshops and storage facilities used to maintain their refining technology.
In exchange for its concessions, Iran will receive relief from many international economic and trade sanctions:
- US and UN trade embargos on Iranian precious metals, automobiles and petrochemicals will be lifted for the duration of this agreement and no new sanctions will be levied on Iranian goods.
- Iran will be given access to approximately $8 billion in oil revenue and other assets which are currently frozen overseas.
- Iran will be allowed to engage in humanitarian trade (“defined as transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses”) and the UN will increase the amount of non-sanctioned trade allowed to Iran.
This deal gives both sides significant concessions from the other and has an immediate substantive effect. During the next six months, Iran’s economy will improve due to increased trade and a return of frozen funds, while the world will be secure in the knowledge that the Iranian nuclear program is halted. Hopefully, this six month period will give negotiators a chance to hammer out a mutually agreeable long-term deal that serves to solidify this progress.
USA Sec. of State Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — Photo from The Guardian
While the word “historic” is perpetually floating around Washington and getting attached to manifestly mediocre programs (ex. Dodd-Frank financial reform), the Iran deal is actually deserving of the adjective. Diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States have been virtually non-existent (at least to the public) since the 1979 revolution and recent years have seen a very real slide towards war—interests in the USA and our allies are extremely worried about Iran and see force as the only option. If it succeeds, this agreement will diffuse the potential for military conflict with Iran and could lead to a mutually-agreeable resolution of grievances without spilling a single drop of blood.
Initial support for the deal has been relatively high (a recent Reuters poll had 44% of Americans supporting the deal with only 22% opposing it) but there have been several high-profile detractors:
- Large portions of the GOP have come out calling the Iranian deal everything from an American capitulation to the next Munich (referring to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler after Germany annexed a part of Czechoslovakia). Arguably the most unhinged of such criticisms comes from several Republicans who have accused the Obama administration of pushing the deal as a distraction from the flaw-ridden roll-out of ObamaCare. These responses are largely political grandstanding and it is unlikely that they will have any lasting effect on substantive policy.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the P5+1/Iranian agreement “a historic mistake”. While Netanyahu’s disapproval of the agreement is significant in Israeli/Iranian relations, it is largely immaterial on the international stage (Israel isn’t involved in the negotiations and lacks the power to sustain sanctions on Iran alone) and negotiations will continue over his objections.
Despite its detractors, the P5+1/Iran deal is a very important first step towards a diplomatic solution with Iran in regard to their nuclear ambitions. Rather than rush into a war which will inevitably cause bloodshed for all involved, this deal promotes a solution where Iran and the international community are able to reach a non-violent and mutually-beneficial agreement.
So what are the next steps to follow on from this preliminary agreement?