Now that an agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue has been reached, attention is turning to how it will affect the region and the world.
The deal is about Iran accepting measures of transparency and limitations on its nuclear infrastructure including uranium enrichment, procurement of nuclear technologies and nuclear research. In return, the international community will lift sanctions that has affected the Iranian economy once Iran has fully implemented its commitments under the deal within a year approximately. Failure to reach an agreement would have heralded confrontation and possibly military actions. The deal opens a new window of opportunity for enhancing regional security.
Outcome to benefit all
Iran has done significant concessions. The chances for going nuclear under the circumstances are almost certainly zilch. The IAEA inspections regime is effective enough. Still Iran has achieved a better deal in comparison with the starting position in 2003. The nuclear potential, especially the right to enrich uranium, by far exceeds its economic and scientific research needs.
There are three alternatives to the agreement. First, a full-blown war in the Persian Gulf as a result of airstrikes delivered against Iran to make the region mired in chaos. Second, Iran going nuclear with all the implications to face. Third, an airstrike against a nuclear Iran to be followed by a nuclear regional conflict.
To avoid these three scenarios the agreement must be strictly complied with by all the parties. The program should be curtailed, the IAEA should conduct its activities unhindered, transparence should be guaranteed and in case of compliance Iran should have sanctions lifted to join the world community again. Perhaps, additional agreements and further coordination of efforts will be needed in the future.
Lessons to draw
Diplomacy should be given a priority. This is a lesson to draw. An agreement was possible in 2003-2004 between Iran and the Big Three – the UK, France and Germany. Iran was ready for a compromise. The US administration led by George Bush, Jr, barged in to demand complete capitulation of Iran threatening it with an air campaign and saying Tehran belonged to the axis of evil. This outright pressure resulted in increased resistance and led to the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. In 2006 Iran went back to uranium enrichment deploying around 20 thousand centrifuges and having collected around 10 thousand tons of enriched uranium – enough to become a nuclear power in a few months. The agreement just achieved is about reducing this very potential.
There is another important lesson to learn here. Only coordinated actions of great powers - the West, Russia and China – can stop proliferation of nuclear weapons in the contemporary world reasonably combining diplomacy with UNSC sanctions (if the imposition is justified).
The bottom line is that the experience of imposing sanctions on different countries in the last several decades shows that if the targeted countries are willing to pay the price, sanctions are not likely to force them to change policy. Cuba, Iraq, Pakistan, and Russia are cases in point. Iran is a large country with a well-educated and broad middle class and massive natural resources. There are growing signs that the multilateral sanctions regime cannot be sustained much longer. Sanctions are pushing Russia and Iran closer, China and India are importing more oil from Iran, Turkey is willing to buy more Iranian gas at a discount price, European and US oil companies are eager to resume their operations in Iran.
The deal offers the following some opportunities:
Re-integrating Iran, a country with significant hard and soft capabilities, into the regional and global system is likely to facilitate progress in addressing the burning issues. The isolation of Iran can further deepen regional conflicts.
The deal paves the way to addressing regional disputes, such as containing the rise of the Islamic State, reigning in terrorism in Pakistan, preventing a Taliban victory in Afghanistan, and countering the region’s drug trade.
Europe, including Russia, has broad and extensive interest in political stability and economic prosperity in the Middle East due to its geographical proximity and historical ties. The areas for cooperation are multiple, including trade, investment, migration, drug trafficking, energy security, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and counter-terrorism. It would benefit all.
Making sure Iran cannot go nuclear without getting caught is a significant enhancement of Israel’s security. The Iran’s nuclear program constitutes an existential threat for Israel. If implemented, the agreement does away with it.
Steps to foster progress
Some steps could be taken to foster further progress and tentatively identify more constructive ways to work together and reduce the more acute and immediate threats in the region.
- resuming talks on the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction under UN auspices;
- relaunching regional collaboration on managing climate change, joining efforts to tackle the problems of water scarcity, desertification and other environmental threats that are actually a more existential threat than nuclear weapons;
- starting regional cooperation on alternative energy, including nuclear energy, for the common benefit of the peoples in the region. It may provide an impetus to Iranian-Saudi cooperation, with all the international safeguards required. With its nuclear energy experience Russia may be an important contributor into the process.
Russia stands to gain from deal
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in a statement released by the Kremlin, that the deal is means that its "bilateral relations with Iran will receive a new impetus and will no longer be influenced by external factors."
The Iran nuclear deal has paved the way for a «broad» coalition to fight the Islamic State group, according to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. «It removes the barriers – largely artificial – on the way to a broad coalition to fight the Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups,» Lavrov said in a statement on the ministry’s website on July 14.
Russia has always opposed Iran developing nuclear weapons, as well as it is not a supporter of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. In 2006-2010, Russia voted in favor of six UN Security Council resolutions (including four with economic sanctions) designed to curb the Iran’s nuclear program. However, Moscow has never officially shared opinions about the military nature of the Iranian nuclear program and always prioritized diplomacy rather than economic sanctions or, especially, military force for resolving this issue. During the last several years, Moscow has played the role of a mediator between Iran and the United States and has done it well.
The end of economic sanctions against Iran opens other economic opportunities for Russia, including the prospect of Russian investment in the reviving Iranian petroleum sector as well as increased exports of Russian goods to Tehran. Before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, more than 60 large infrastructure projects including hydro- and thermal power plants, gas pipelines, metallurgical factories and machinery plants were built in Iran with the help of the USSR.
In recent years economic relations between the two countries plummeted due to UN, EU and U.S. sanctions. Iran's share of Russia's foreign trade has dropped to historic lows, while major oil field development projects were canceled by Russian companies including Lukoil, Norsk Hydro and Gazprom Neft. Now Russian companies are planning major investments in the development of Iran’s large gas fields. Russia also plans to continue aiding in the development of Iranian nuclear energy, having achieved a unique position as Iran’s partner in building the Bushehr nuclear power plant during the county’s international isolation over the last decades.
Deals totaling $10 billion have already been outlined for the construction of hydro- and thermal power plants. Space cooperation also looks promising, as Iran has no means of launching satellites into orbit and expects to cooperate with Russia. Another attractive possibility is investment in the expansion and modernization of Iran's railway infrastructure, an area in which Russia has vast experience and technical capacity.
Military technology cooperation has been is a promising field of cooperation too.
Starting in the mid-1960s, the Soviet Union supplied Iran with large deliveries of armored vehicles and artillery, and built factories for the repair and production of military equipment (in Isfahan, Shiraz, Dorude, and near Tehran). After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Russia's share of Iran’s military imports rose to 60%, and in the 1990s Iran became, along with China and India, a major buyer of Russian weapons, including fighter aircraft (MiG-29, Su-24), helicopters (Mi-17), anti-aircraft missiles (S-200, TOR-1), Kilo diesel submarines, tanks (T -72) and infantry fighting vehicles (BMP-2).
Russia has the credentials and capabilities to facilitate and accelerate the process of re-integrating the Islamic Republic into the global system. This unique opportunity for engagement must not be wasted.
Joining together – prerequisite for success
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on July 15, congratulating each other on reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran. The leaders agreed it was in the interests of the world as a whole. The telephone conversation took place on the initiative of the United States. The two sides stressed the role of Russian-U.S. dialogue in ensuring world security and stability. «Both sides stressed that the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program meets the interests of the entire international community, helping strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and decreasing tensions in the Middle East. In this respect, the presidents emphasized the role of Russian-U.S. dialogue in ensuring security and stability in the world», according to the statement.
Putin and Obama «expressed a mutual intention to continue joint work in the interest of sustainable implementation of the Vienna agreements, as well as certain other current international matters, including countering international terrorism», the statement emphasizes.
The two leaders also «congratulated one another on a special date in Russian-American relations: the 40th anniversary since the Soyuz-Apollo orbital flight».
In a readout of the conversation, the White House said Obama thanked Putin for Russia's role in the Iran nuclear negotiations. «The leaders committed to remain in close coordination as the (deal) is operationalized and also expressed a desire to work together on reducing regional tensions, particularly in Syria», according to the White House.
It added that Obama and Putin agreed to remain in close touch as the Iran deal is implemented and would work together to reduce tensions in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. That’s what is really important - the both sides agreed to further cooperate in the Middle East.
The deal testifies to the fact that Russia, the US and the West in general can and must put aside the differences over Ukraine and effectively cooperate in other fields addressing burning issues of mutual interest to benefit all. The talks about Russia’s international «isolation» rather ridiculous under the circumstances. The parties to the talks on Iran deal still have a long way to go. The implementation of the deal is a bumpy road ahead. It’s impossible to accomplish the mission divided, only combined efforts lead to success as the Iran deal experience shows.