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    Middle East
     Dec 11, '13

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Reflections on the Iran nuclear deal
By Ismael Hossein-zadeh

Two major reasons can be identified for why they could have struck a better nuclear deal in Geneva than they actually did. For one thing, President Rouhani and his team of negotiators' liaison with the P5+1 group got off on the wrong foot: they showed their hand prematurely by approaching the negotiations with a sense of desperation and an attitude of eagerness to reach a deal.

Indeed, it is fair to argue that President Rouhani condemned Iran to an unsound or flawed deal long before he was elected. He did so during his presidential campaign by pinning his chances for election on economic recovery through a nuclear deal. This was a huge mistake, as it automatically weakened Iran's bargaining

position and, by the same token, strengthened that of the United States and its allies.

By exaggerating (perhaps opportunistically) the culpability of his predecessor in the escalation of economic sanctions against Iran, he committed two blunders: one downplaying the culpability of the US and its allies; the other (and by the same token) placing the onus of reaching a nuclear deal largely on Iran.

Secondly, whereas the US and its junior partners constantly brandished the so-called "stick" of additional sanctions in the background of the Geneva negotiations to extract more concessions from Iran, the Iranian side does not seem to have effectively used its country's recent geopolitical successes in the region to resist the one-sided concessions.

While the United States and its allies have in recent months experienced a major setback over the Syrian crisis, Iran and its allies (Russia, Syria, Hezbollah and, indirectly and minimally, China) have by the same token experienced success. And while the results of the US military adventures of the past dozen years or so have been chaos and civil war in countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, Iran remains a relatively stable and an ascending regional power, indeed, a powerbroker-sanctions-induced economic distress notwithstanding.

It is thus altogether reasonable to argue that had the Iranian negotiators (a) not gone to Geneva with such an openly eager attitude to reach a nuclear deal, and (b) taken more effective advantage of their country's recent geopolitical successes in the region, they could have struck a better nuclear deal than they actually did.

For example, while agreeing on the freezing of their nuclear technology was (under the circumstances) unavoidable, they could more strongly argue that there was no reason for them to roll back Iran's scientific achievements from 20% enrichment of uranium to 5%-20% enrichment, which is both NPT-sanctioned, or legal, and required for the Tehran Research Reactor, which manufactures medical isotopes.

Likewise, while agreeing to more intrusive inspections of nuclear sites was (again, under the circumstances) inescapable, Iranian negotiators could reasonably resist allowing inspectors access to and monitoring of their country's centrifuge assembly workshops, or its uranium mines and mills. Furthermore, the Iranian team could, again quite reasonably, insist on making the elements of the "final agreement", which is supposed to remove all of the sanctions against Iran, more specific. As they now stand, these elements are so vague, fluid and inconsistent that they seem to be crafted in order to be broken.

Regime change from within
Ever since the 1979 revolution in Iran, which significantly undermined the US influence in Iran and elsewhere in the region, the United States has been on a "regime change" mission in the country. Its efforts in pursuit of this nefarious goal are rather well established. They range from instigating and supporting Saddam Hussein to invade Iran, to training and supporting destabilizing terrorist organizations to attack Iran, to constant war and military threats, to efforts to sabotage the 2009 presidential election through the so-called "green revolution", and to systematic escalation of economic sanctions.

Not only have these imperialistic schemes fallen short of their goal of "regime change" in Iran, they have, in fact, driven that country to become a major power in the region, which has further thwarted the geopolitical plans of the United States in the area. While the US-supported mercenary forces in Syria as well as its allies in Ankara, Cairo and Riyadh have experienced serious setbacks in their efforts to overthrow the government in Damascus, the Iran-Russia-Syria-Hezbollah alliance has (by the same token) gained strength and prestige in recent months.

Having thus failed at its plots for "regime change" in Iran from without, the US (or more precisely, a major faction of its ruling powers) now seems to have opted for regime change (or reform) from within; that is, through political and economic rapprochement with Iran. Even some of the US allies such as Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Israel that have always been wary of Iran's radical influence in the region, and who initially opposed vehemently the Iran- P5+1 nuclear agreement, are beginning to see the "moderating" or "stabilizing" benefits of the success of this tactic.

What has made this option more promising (to the US and its client regimes) is the rise of an ambitious capitalist class in Iran whose chief priority seems to be the ability to do business with their counterparts in the West. These folks literally mean business, so to speak; for them, issues such as nuclear technology or national sovereignty are of secondary importance.

As mentioned earlier, they are the staunchest supporters of President Rouhani and the unquestioning supporters of his lopsided concessions in the nuclear deal. Also as mentioned before, it was the representative delegations of this class of Iranian capitalists that accompanied President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif to the United States and Europe in order to negotiate business/investment deals with their counterparts in the West.

To be sure, the jingoistic factions of the US ruling circles, headed by the beneficiaries of war dividends and the Israeli lobby, continue to push for direct military intervention and/or further economic strangulation of Iran. But the leaders and/or beneficiaries of non-military industries such as oil, automobile, airlines, agriculture, and the like are lobbying the Obama administration for economic and political rapprochement with Iran.

Which of these two major factions of the US ruling powers (Proponents of regime change from within or from without) would succeed, depends largely on the process and/or outcome of nuclear negotiations. While making threats of additional sanctions, the hardline or militaristic faction seem to be for now sitting on the fence: if Iran continues to make more one-sided concessions, which would basically mean giving up its right to a level of uranium enrichment that is necessary for its peaceful domestic needs, they would soften their positions and gradually lower their shrill and menacing voices.

On the other hand, if Iran does not relent on its legal and legitimate enrichment rights, and insists that the US and its allies need to reciprocate Iran's interim concessions by lifting the sanctions, they would further harden their positions by calling for additional sanctions and/or military intervention. Under this latter scenario, proponents of rapprochement with Iran, having failed in their tactic of regime change/reform from within, would most probably join the hardliners, thereby embarking, once again, on the long-standing policy of regime change from without-back to square one, so to speak.

So, how would all of these new developments on both the Iranian and the US side affect and/or be affected by the interim nuclear deal toward a "comprehensive final step"?

Problematic future for deal
Components of the interim agreement are so vague, inconsistent and even contradictory that it makes them subject to divergent interpretations and, therefore, potential breaches of the deal in the future. This explains why soon after the agreement was signed conflicting understandings of it began to surface. While the Iranian president and his team of negotiators have frequently declared that the agreement acknowledges the country's right to uranium enrichment, the US side, headed by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, has vigorously denied that right.

Equally vague and (potentially) problematic is the meaning of the "elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution." According to Iran's negotiators, the "final step" would "Comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions", as it is, indeed, stipulated as such in the interim agreement.

However, the agreement immediately adds that the final step would "Involve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities, capacity, where it is carried out, and stocks of enriched uranium, for a period to be agreed upon." And it is this ambiguous and condition-laden ("mutually defined enrichment…, mutually agreed parameters…, agreed limits on scope…, for a period to be agreed upon") sentence in the interim deal that is frequently highlighted by the United States as governing the status of the "final step".

This is an indication, as pointed out by Gareth Porter (among others), "of uncertain US commitment to the 'end state' agreement." US reservations or unfaithfulness toward a clear, comprehensive and sanctions-free final deal, Gareth further points out, "came in a background press briefing by unidentified senior US officials in Geneva via teleconference late Saturday night [November 23 2013]. The officials repeatedly . . . referred to the negotiation of the 'comprehensive solution' outlined in the deal . . . as an open-ended question rather than an objective of US policy" (source). It is this ambiguous, unsure and noncommittal US approach to the nuclear deal that serves as grounds for the pessimistic conclusion that the deal is facing an uncertain future.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of The Political Economy of US Militarism (Palgrave- Macmillan 2007) and Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser's Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989). His latest book, titled Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis: Parasitic Finance Capital, is forthcoming from Routledge Books.

(Copyright 2013 Ismael Hossein-zadeh)

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