At the negotiations in Geneva, Iran and the P5+1 were able to come to an agreement for which the world community has been waiting for 10 years. At the foundation of the deal lay suggestions advanced two years ago by V. Putin which gained new momentum when President Rouhani took office as president of Iran; these suggestions were also accepted by the United States and the European participants in the dialog. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the consensus reached; the agreement is rightly considered historic, and the willingness of the parties to compromise has been called a «deal of the century» which makes it possible to take an important step toward a safer world, especially in the Middle East. Much will depend on how Iran cooperates within the framework of the interim agreement.
In spring of this year there was little indication that it would be possible to come to an agreement with Iran, and the likelihood that American and Iranian diplomats would work together on a draft of the agreement could not but arouse skepticism. However, in June of this year there was a change of presidents in Iran, and the new leadership, with the blessing of Ayatollah Khamenei, immediately set a course toward normalizing relations with America. Russia supported Iran's efforts; the European members of P5+1 viewed the prospect of an American-Iranian rapprochement with a certain amount of jealousy, fearing for their own interests in the Iranian economy; and regional adversaries of Tehran saw a direct threat to their security in President Rouhani's new course. Not only Saudi Arabia, but Israel also has sharply criticized the policy of the American president in not spurning Iran, but rather starting a dialog with the Iranians. Much now depends on the political will of Barack Obama, who has met with serious resistance in the U.S. Congress.
Will Obama Come to an Agreement with Congress?
Barack Obama was one of the first to support the new agreement. In a speech at the White House on November 23, Obama stated that while this agreement is «just a first step», it is very important for reaching a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program. There is no doubt that this time Washington was intent on progress. The U.S. plans to approach the problem of Iran's nuclear development in two stages. The first stage is the reaching of a six-month interim agreement which, according to U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, «will halt progress in [Iran's] nuclear program and roll it back in key ways». The six-month pause, as envisioned by the Americans, should make it possible to negotiate «a comprehensive, long-term solution that fully resolves the concerns of the international community». Until this agreement is reached, suspension of sanctions against Iran would be «limited, temporary and reversible». Sanctions remain the White House's main argument. From the viewpoint of the American administration, the Iranian leadership is serious about a nuclear deal only because of unprecedented economic pressure on Iran. On that basis, the Obama administration is trying to convince senators not to be hasty in adopting more sanctions against Iran and is assuring congressmen that the unfreezing of assets which was promised to Tehran will give the Iranian economy no more than 10 billion dollars. In comparison with Iran's losses from the sanctions, that is quite modest compensation, although there are conjectures that the Obama administration is easing up on some sanctions without a decision from Congress, thus playing up to the new leadership of the IRI in anticipation of its compliance.
The desire to circumvent the senators is understandable; the majority in Congress belongs to those who advocate accelerating the process of adopting new sanctions. Their logic is simple: harsh sanctions forced the Iranian government to agree to serious negotiations on its nuclear program; thus, additional pressure on Iran will only strengthen America's position in this dialog. They see no advantage for the U.S. in the interim agreement with Iran and demand harsh measures against Tehran.
The position of U.S. lawmakers is in agreement with the approach of the Israeli government, which insists that there is no sense in the current negotiations between the U.S. and the IRI. For now, both houses of Congress have agreed to postpone the introduction of new sanctions, and the Jewish lobby has lost the battle for public opinion on the Iranian issue in the U.S. A survey conducted in the United States on the issue of the agreement with Iran showed that 65% of Americans agree with the easing of sanctions against Iran in exchange for Tehran's concessions with regard to its nuclear program.
Is Israel Looking for New Allies to Replace the U.S.?
For many years Israel's foreign policy has been one-sided and oriented solely on the U.S.; in spite of this, Israel openly put spokes in the wheels of the negotiations on the interim agreement with Iran, trying to push the dialog to the brink of failure in order to then issue an ultimatum to Tehran. The prospect of a rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran essentially means that Washington will give up trying to secure Tehran's capitulation and, in the end, a change in the existing regime in the IRI. This is the main reason for Israel's displeasure with America. In light of the deterioration of relations with Washington, according to Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, the time has come to seek new allies who wish to collaborate with Tel Aviv «on the basis of new views on the situation». Does this indicate an attempt to totally refocus Israel's policy?
Currently there is little indication that such a scenario is realistic. While the head of Israeli diplomacy has been criticizing Washington for its willingness to reach a compromise with Iran on the Iranian nuclear program, Israel's Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon has been meeting with his American colleague Chuck Hagel, and, despite disagreements on the Iranian issue, the parties confirmed prospects for the development of military cooperation. The special relations between the two countries' departments responsible for security are not in question; the military alliance between Israel and the U.S. is unlikely to be subjected to significant revision in the foreseeable future. But on the backdrop of America's dwindling authority in the Middle East and the indecisiveness of the Obama administration, unfriendly rhetoric could increase in the relations of the two countries. Reproaches can be heard from both capitals, but the disagreements are unlikely to lead to radical steps; it is only a matter of tactical steps depending on the interests of the parties in the specific current situation. Thus it was, for example, on the eve of the last round of negotiations with Iran in Geneva, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wishing to disoblige the White House, made a knowingly futile attempt to talk President Putin out of the agreement with Tehran.
Does Russia Aspire to the Role of the U.S. in the Region?
Not only in Israel, but among Arab allies of the U.S., the belief that America is no longer a reliable partner in the Middle East is gaining momentum. After the failures of American plans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries of the region have reason to doubt the ability of the U.S. to guarantee a predictable outcome in the Middle East. Now it is unclear how the situation in Egypt will play out, what awaits the region in connection with the nascent revival of relations between America and Iran, how Saudi Arabia will react, whether Turkey will be satisfied with its secondary role, and, most importantly, how to prevent Syria from becoming an «Arab Afghanistan»… In practically all areas a weakening of U.S. influence can be observed, and for Middle Eastern countries which are not capable of defending their own interests, a vacuum in alliances with large world powers is developing. Under these circumstances, the leaders of Middle Eastern countries have begun to reevaluate their relations with the Russian Federation, which is increasingly being considered as an alternative to a one-sided strategic focus on Washington.
Russia could play an important role in the Middle East; experts consider the turning point in its return to the region to be the recent visit of Russian ministers to Cairo. Indeed, if Russia, which is already confidently present in Syria and has close relations with Iran, continues to develop cooperation with Egypt, it is quite possible that this will lead to the beginning of a new era in Moscow's relations with the Middle East. Now, for example, this tendency has become noticeable in Iraq, whose prime minister Nouri al-Maliki made two trips to Moscow last year, and not one to Washington. The negotiations focused on armaments cooperation, which always speaks of the serious intention of the parties involved. Nevertheless, there are no weighty reasons to think that Russia is trying in this way to crowd the U.S. out of the region. Rather, one may speak of the Kremlin's desire to be an equal partner to the White House whose opinion is taken into account in resolving regional problems. Accordingly, Russia is facilitating the normalization of Iranian-American relations, including the resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem, so references to supposedly secret preliminary negotiations between the Americans and the Iranians which were unknown to the Kremlin are nothing but a myth. It is Moscow's principled position on resolving the nuclear problem in Iran, which is well known to its partners and has not changed over the course of several years, that was employed by the participants of P5+1, including the U.S.
Russia's approach is based on acknowledging Iran's right to enrich uranium as part of its inalienable rights under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the mandatory placement of the Iranian nuclear program under comprehensive international control. If such an agreement is reached, then Russia proposes removing all sanctions in full. Keep in mind that the presence of UN sanctions is an obstacle to Iran's accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose growing influence is in the interests of peace and stability in Central Asia. Iran's emergence from international isolation will increase Tehran's influence in the Middle East; this will probably be to the advantage of Russia, which has strong partnership relations with Iran. Russia also opposes sanctions because economic and trade blockades have always been attributes of preparation for war, and the U.S. and Israel have not yet removed the possibility of closing Iran's nuclear dossier by force from the agenda.