Page 1 of 2 SPEAKING FREELY Reflections on the Iran nuclear deal
By Ismael Hossein-zadeh
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The interim nuclear agreement that was signed on November 24 by Iran and the so-called P5+1 group in Geneva is questionable on a number of grounds.
When the guilty tries the innocent
The underlying logic for the Iran nuclear negotiations was and continues to be preposterous: on one side of the negotiating table sat major nuclear powers who are all in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires them to have either dismantled or drastically reduced their nuclear arsenal; on the other side, an NPT- compliant country that neither possesses nor pursues nuclear weapons - a fact that is testified to both by the
US and Israeli intelligence agencies.
In an ironically perverse way, the culprits have assumed the role of the police, the prosecutor and the judge, shamelessly persecuting and prosecuting the innocent for no other reason than trying to exercise its NPT-granted right to peaceful nuclear technology.
This obviously means that Iran is essentially negotiating under duress. Largely shut out of normal international trade, and constantly threatened by economic strangulation, it is essentially negotiating with a bullet to its head. As an astute observer of the negotiations has pointed out, "Iran voluntarily agreed to the [nuclear] deal the same way that a robbery victim voluntarily agrees to give up valuable possessions" to save his or her life .
The imbalance Iran faced
To reach the interim deal, the Iranian negotiators agreed to a number of concessions with very little reciprocity in terms of relief from sanctions. These included: limiting its enrichment of uranium to only 3-5% purity, from the current level of 20% purity; rendering unusable its existing stockpile of 20% fuel for further enrichment; not using its more advanced IR-M2 centrifuges for enrichment; not activating its heavy-water reactor in Arak; and consenting to highly intrusive inspections.
This means that under the deal, the Iranian negotiators have agreed to more than freezing Iran's nuclear technology; perhaps more importantly, they have reversed and rolled back significant scientific achievements and technological breakthroughs of recent years. One can imagine the feeling of disappointment (and perhaps betrayal) on the part of the many dedicated scientists, engineers and technicians who worked so hard to bring about such scientific advances; only to see them dishonored or degraded by reversing and freezing them at a much lower level.
In return for these significant concessions, the US and its allies would agree: to unfreeze less-than 7 billion dollars of Iran's nearly 100 billion dollars of oil revenue frozen in bank accounts overseas; to consider easing sanctions banning trade in precious metals, petrochemicals and auto industry; and to suspend the EU and US sanctions on insurance and transportation services for the drastically reduced sale of Iran's oil.
The most crippling sanctions on Iran's oil and banks, which served as the financial facilitators of international trade, would remain intact under the proposed interim deal.
Threat to Iran's sovereignty
A careful reading of the interim agreement reveals that the Iranian negotiators gave up more than scaling down and freezing their country's nuclear technology and/or knowledge. More importantly, if implemented, the deal effectively places Iran's nuclear program (through IAEA) under total control of the United States and its allies. This is no speculation; it follows from the interim deal's vastly invasive inspections regime, which is described under the subheading "Enhanced Monitoring":
- Provision of specified information to the IAEA, including information on Iran's plans for nuclear facilities, a description of each building on each nuclear site, a description of the scale of operations for each location engaged in specified nuclear activities, information on uranium mines and mills, and information on source material. This information would be provided within three months of the adoption of these measures.
- Steps to agree with the IAEA on conclusion of the Safeguards Approach for the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40.
- Daily IAEA inspector access when inspectors are not present for the purpose of Design Information Verification, Interim Inventory Verification, Physical Inventory Verification, and unannounced inspections, for the purpose of access to offline surveillance records, at Fordow and Natanz.
- IAEA inspector managed access to: centrifuge assembly workshops; centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities; and, uranium mines and mills.
The fact that provisions of "enhanced monitoring" tend to infringe upon Iran's national sovereignty was implicitly acknowledged by the Washington Post when it reported on the morning following the signing of the deal (24 November 2013) that, according to Western officials in Geneva, the Iranian concessions "not only halt Iran's nuclear advances but also make it virtually impossible for Tehran" to make any changes in its nuclear technology "without being detected".
Another indication of Iran's national sovereignty being threatened is the interim deal's establishment of "a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran's domestic needs ... This channel could also enable: transactions required to pay Iran's UN obligations; and, direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad." Although the financial channel would be using Iran's own money, currently frozen abroad, it would not be controlled or managed by Iranians-sadly reminiscent of Iraq's "oil for food" neo-colonial deal under Saddam Hussein.
So much for so little
Deprived of more than half of its oil exports/revenue, and largely locked out of the international banking and/or trade system, the Iranian economy and its people are already gravely suffering from the ravages of economic sanctions. Additional sanctions, which are pre-packaged and frequently brandished as Damocles' Sword in the background of the nuclear negotiations, are bound to further depress Iran's economy and the living conditions of its people.
Under these circumstances, Iran basically faced (or faces) two options. One option would be embarking on the path of a war economy, as it has, in effect, been subjected to a brutal economic war by the United States and its allies. This would be similar to the eight years (1980-88) of war with Iraq, when at the instigation and support of regional and global powers Saddam Hussein launched a surprise military attack against Iran. The other option would be compromising its legal and legitimate rights to peaceful nuclear technology in order to appease the global bully (the US) and its minions in the hope that this may prevent a further tightening of the noose of economic sanctions around the neck of the Iranian people.
During the eight-year war with Saddam's Iraq, not only did the Western powers and their allies in the region support the Iraqi dictator militarily but they also subjected Iran to severe economic sanctions. With its back against the wall, so to speak, Iran embarked on a revolutionary path of a war economy that successfully provided both for the war mobilization to defend its territorial integrity and for respectable living conditions of its population.
By taking control of the commanding heights of the national economy, and effectively utilizing the revolutionary energy and dedication of their people, Iranian policy makers further succeeded in bringing about significant economic developments. These included: extensive electrification of the countryside, expansion of transportation networks, construction of tens of thousands of schools and medical clinics all across the country, provision of foodstuffs and other basic needs for the indigent at affordable prices, and more.
Despite its record of success, this option is altogether ruled out by today's Iranian ruling powers. There are a number of reasons for this aversion to a regimented war economy. A detailed discussion of such reasons is beyond the purview of this essay. Suffice it to say that many of the revolutionary leaders who successfully managed the 1980-88 war economy have now become business entrepreneurs and prosperous capitalists.
Having effectively enriched themselves in the shadow of the public sector economy, or by virtue of the political/bureaucratic positions they held (or still hold) in various stations in the government apparatus, these folks have by now lost all appetite they once had for the radical economic measures required by a war economy. Instead, they now seem eager to strike business and investment deals with their counterparts in the West.
More than any other social strata, President Rouhani and his administration represent the interests and aspirations of this ascending capitalist-business class in Iran. Representatives of this class wield economic and political power through the highly influential Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines, and Agriculture (ICCIMA).
Ideological and/or philosophical affinity between President Rouhani and the power-brokers residing within ICCIMA is reflected in the fact that, immediately upon his election, the president appointed former head of the Chamber of Commerce Mohammad Nahavandian, a US-educated neoliberal economist and an advisor to former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, as his chief of staff.
It was through Nahavandian and the Iran Chamber of Commerce that, in September 2013, an Iranian economic delegation accompanied President Rouhani to the United Nations in New York to negotiate (behind the scenes) potential business/investment deals with their American counterparts. The Iran Chamber of Commerce also organized a number of economic delegations that accompanied Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif to Geneva in pursuit of similar objectives in Europe.
It is understandable, therefore, why major factions within Iran's ruling circles, especially the Rouhani administration and their allies and co-thinkers, have no stomach for a regimented, war-like economy; and why, instead, they opted for compromises over Iran's nuclear program. The question remains, however, why did they make so many concessions in return for so little? Did they have to compromise as much as they did?