By Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh, Executive Editor of Iran Review
Cartoon by Rashid Kargar, Tehran's Arman daily
After the end of four days of breathtaking diplomatic marathon in the Swiss city of Geneva, Iran, on the one hand, and the six world powers, on the other hand, finally came up with a joint plan of action according to which they are going to move toward a comprehensive solution [for Iran's nuclear issue] within the forthcoming year. “Win-win outcome” is probably the best description for this agreement. The P5+1 group of world powers just wanted to make sure that Iran will not gain the capability to build nuclear weapons and in doing so, it could not suffice to frequent rejection of such allegations by Iran. On the other hand, Iran also wanted its rights to be recognized as per the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), including the Islamic Republic’s right to enrich uranium on its soil.
Regardless of different analyses, which have been offered these days on what every party has won or lost, I hereby aim to focus on twelve achievements that the agreement will have for Iran. Without a doubt, the number of the achievements that the opposite parties have gained through the agreement with Iran is no less, which materializes the true meaning of “negotiations aimed at reaching a result other that a zero-sum game.”
1. Recognizing Iran's uranium enrichment right: It is true that nowhere in the text of the agreement the two words, “right” and “enrichment,” have been used together. However, the way in which the “enrichment” process has been mentioned in two parts of the text, actually dispels any suspicions that may exist about recognition by Iran's negotiating partners of the fact that the Islamic Republic can enrich uranium on its soil. The preamble to the “Joint Plan of Action” reads as such: “This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the programme.”
Once again, in the part of the plan of action, which pertains to “Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution,”it says the final step would “involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters.”
2. Changing structure of anti-Iran sanctions: During the past years, perhaps a few days have passed without escalation or intensification of [international or unilateral] sanctions [against the Islamic Republic of Iran]. The Geneva plan of action has presaged three major developments in the area of sanctions. Firstly, paragraph 3 of the plan has clearly stated that during the period of the first step, which has a duration of six months, the United Nations Security Council, the United States and the European Union will avoid imposing new sanctions against Iran. Secondly, part of the previously imposed sanctions which include bans on trade of petrochemicals and precious stones by Iran and a certain portion of financial sanctions against the country will be lifted. Thirdly, in two places, the text of the plan has noted that the main goal of the final step of a comprehensive solution is to put in place a reciprocal and step by step process, which would “comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions.”This issue has been mentioned first in the preamble and the second time in the part entitled “Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution.”
3. Introducing a supervisory mechanism for the implementation of the plan: The important point about the mechanism (known as the Joint Commission) foreseen to supervise the implementation of medium-term measures and discussing future issues is the equal presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran alongside six major world powers. This membership will certainly give birth to a more balanced framework for the resolution of problems and misunderstandings and will thwart acts of obstructionism and possible political gimmicks. In the meantime, the emphasis put on the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the “verification of nuclear-related measures” and Joint Commission’s cooperation with the IAEA will further highlight the legal and technical aspects of the nuclear issue which has been a goal sought by Iran all along the way.
4. Enriched uranium stays in Iran: According to the agreement, Iran has accepted, as a confidence-building and voluntary measure, to convert half of the uranium it has already enriched to 20-percent level for use as fuel by Tehran Research Reactor, to 20-percent uranium oxide for storage. Tehran will also dilute the remaining 20-percent uranium to below that level. However, the fact that even one gram of the Iranian enriched uranium will not be taken out of the country is, per se, a major breakthrough for our country. As a result, the need of Iran's medical and agricultural sectors to enriched uranium will be met for the next six months and this effectively reduces the possibility that Iran will become dependent on other countries for the nuclear fuel.
5. Iran's nuclear activities will continue unabated: The commitment of the P5+1 member states to accept continuation of the 5-percent uranium enrichment in Iran actually means that the country’s nuclear activities will go on. Meanwhile, although strict measures have been considered in the part of the agreement which is entitled “Elements of a first step,” for a period of six months, nowhere in the text, Iran has been asked to stop its nuclear activities. This is very different from the commitment that Iran had accepted many years ago to prove its goodwill by voluntarily suspending all kinds of nuclear activities for about two years. In return for that voluntary suspension, Iran was not given any worthwhile quid pro quo which could have been a good answer to its voluntary suspension of nuclear activities.
6. Nuclear research and development (R&D) will continue in Iran: The stipulation in the first part of the deal, dubbed “Elements of a first step” to the effect that “Iran will continue its safeguarded R&D practices, including its current enrichment R&D practices, which are not designed for accumulation of the enriched uranium” is clear evidence that Iran's inalienable right to continue nuclear research has been accepted as per Article 4 of the NPT. This will guarantee further progress of Iran's scientific advances in the area of nuclear energy.
7. No more pressure on current customers of Iran oil: A review of the trend in buying Iran's crude oil by a number of Asian countries will show that during the past two years, they have had to frequently reduce the amount of oil they purchased from Iran under mounting pressures or incentives provided to them by the United States. At the same time, another major problem was the issue of providing insurance coverage for tanker ships carrying Iranian oil, [which had been made very difficult under US sanctions]. As a result, the transportation of even small amounts of oil that Asian countries bought from Iran had become very difficult. The first paragraph in the section of the agreement which is related to voluntary measure to be undertaken by the member states of the P5+1 group [aka. EU3/EU+3] will relieve customers of Iranian crude oil from such pressures. Continuation of the past situation would have inevitably forced the customers of the Iranian oil to gradually find alternative sources of energy instead of Iran. This process will stop now.
8. Suspension of sanctions on Iran's petrochemical exports, auto industry, and precious metals trade: A point here, which is more important than the mere removal of sanctions, is the removal of “sanctions on associated services.” This phrase has been repeated at the end of every sentence related to removal of sanctions against every one of the aforesaid sectors. This means that Iran's insurance, shipping, and air transportation industries, which had come to an almost total halt in recent months, will resume their activities even though at a low early pace.
9. Lessening humanitarian consequences of sanctions:To establish a financial channel for the resumption of trade in humanitarian areas will certainly dispel many concerns on the part of human rights activists who have been worried about untoward side effects of anti-Iran sanctions. Those areas include the procurement of foodstuff and agricultural products as well as necessary medications, and medical and hospital equipment from abroad. Let’s not forget that the permission given to foreign nongovernmental organizations and charities by the US Treasury Department to send humanitarian aid to victims of earthquake in northern Iranian provinces was of such a high importance that it rapidly hit the headlines in the mainstream international media.
10. Giving Iran more maneuvering room to boost trade with Europe: The last paragraph of the agreement just before the section on the “Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution,” reads as such: “Increase the EU authorization thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.” Although this paragraph is somehow ambiguous, part of that ambiguity was dissipated after the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius made remarks on November 25 about possible trade openings between Iran and the European Union starting from December 2013. There is no doubt that resumption of all kinds of bilateral and multilateral trade between Iran and the member states of the European Union will be a clear and more efficient interpretation of what [Iranian President] Mr. [Hassan] Rouhani described as “cracks in the structure of [anti-Iran] sanctions.”
11. Iran proved self-confidence by allowing more extensive inspections of its nuclear sites: Although an extensive amount of inspections as well as confidence building measures have been considered for Iran in the “Joint Plan of Action,” it can also provide Iran with a good opportunity to once again prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear energy program on which the country has insisted all through the past years. Iran's presence at the Joint Commission which is to oversee the implementation of the action plan becomes more important in the light of this reality as it can give Iran more latitude to prove the authenticity of its peaceful intentions.
12. Doing away with threat of war and escalating sanctions: The agreement has, at least for a period of six months, taken Iran and the entire region away from the prevailing atmosphere of war threat and the senseless allegation that “all options are on the table.” That atmosphere could have many negative consequences for the whole region from daily tension and promotion of Iranophobia all the way to extravagant military purchases by the regional countries in a bid to avert the imaginary Iran threat.
Representatives from Iran and 6 world powers sign a nuclear deal in Geneva on Nov. 24, 2013
(photo by Mona Hoobehfehr, ISNA)
On the whole, the benefits of this agreement are actually “divided benefits” and not necessarily “common benefits.” Both sides had demands and they managed to meet part of those demands through breathtaking negotiations. However, one may daresay that the most important of all is the revival of a sense of understanding, cooperation and common understanding between Iran and the West after many years during which the wall of distrust and suspicion was growing between the two sides. Also, an age-old taboo about direct contacts between Iran and the United States was finally shattered through the latest round of negotiations in Geneva where both countries had good exercises in bilateral negotiations with respect for each other’s positions. Under such circumstances, even efforts made by the United States to assuage the concerns of Israel and Saudi Arabia over nuclear deal with Iran did not end up in their benefit, but only served to prove how insignificant is the rationality and how high is the concern about changing political structures in the region among leaders in both Tel Aviv and Riyadh.
The plan of action is, in fact, a first step on a very long path; a long path along which any untoward incident may happen in the future. However, one reality cannot be denied: Iran and the P5+1 group have found the best way to negotiate with each other and this will prove to be a very important and efficient achievement, which will facilitate resolution of any possible future problem.
The two sides have clearly accepted that in spite of the requirements emanating from the UN Security Council resolutions - which require Iran to totally suspend its nuclear energy program and also impose sanctions against the country - the Islamic Republic can still continue to enrich uranium to 5 percent purity during the next six months. This is an explicit admission of the continuation of enrichment on Iran’s soil as a result of which the two sides will be finally able to render the impact of Security Council’s resolutions ineffective in due time.
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