While the world is distracted by the events in Ukraine, international negotiators have been going full steam trying to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. From all appearances, it seems Iran and the Big Powers are on the verge of sealing an agreement. Success of negotiations would bring the US back into the accord, and it would also mean that sanctions on Iran would be lifted in exchange for limiting its nuclear programme.
On paper, all this looks good. But, are the provisions of the deal really enough to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb in the near or distant future? Though it has always said that its programme is intended for peaceful purposes, Iran has a history of fibbing about its nuclear intentions. Besides, verification provisions in the past have proved to be woefully insufficient.
Another issue springing from the negotiations is Iran’s demand for ‘inherent guarantees’ — in other words, Tehran wants to ensure that no future US president would withdraw from the agreement. But would it make sense for any US administration to actually give such a guarantee?
The US has said an agreement is ‘neither imminent nor certain’ and it has also cryptically said the onus is on Tehran to make decisions that it might consider difficult.
While the focus has rightly remained on Iran’s potential nuclear weapons ambitions, one thing left totally out of the picture is Tehran’s conventional weapons capabilities, such as its advanced ballistic missiles programme.
Iran has shown extreme willingness to share this technology with malign non-state actors in the region, who operate as Tehran’s proxies. The groups, such as Yemen’s Al Houthi militia, have repeatedly deployed Iranian-made and supplied weapons against Arab states. Their existence, and their possession of these weapons, constitutes a clear and present danger to peace and stability in the region. Any deal the Big Powers may get into with Iran must also focus on these issues, as they impact the entire neighbourhood.
Iran, a millennia-old civilisation steeped in culture and learning, is an intrinsic part of the Middle East. There is no denying that. The country is blessed with fertile soil, and hydrocarbon wealth. If Tehran changes its policies, a whole new world of opportunities will open up for it in the region.