Iran nuclear agreement - Will deal embolden Tehran?

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Euphoria in Tehran, fury in Jerusalem, and a mixed reaction in Washington has greeted the accord reached with Iran on curbing its nuclear programme.

Iran has agreed to freeze production of near-weapons grade fuel and remove its stockpile of uranium-enriched material in return for an easing of economic sanctions.

The deal reached between Iran and the US, France, Germany, Britain, China, and Russia was sealed when it won the endorsement of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

That the Shia cleric and former Iranian president should hail the deal as a victory might have been expected to give rise in the West to some misgivings, but, so far, it hasn’t.

US president Barack Obama, along with some of his EU counterparts, are so giddy with excitement at clinching the deal that they are even prepared to ignore the glaringly obvious.

Iran continues to insist on its right to develop a nuclear programme, claiming that it is for civilian use only. But why does a nation with the world’s third biggest repository of oil reserves need to develop what it claims is a peaceful nuclear programme for the generation — mostly — of heat and electricity?

Why should anyone in the West believe Iran when it has shown itself to be untrustworthy in the past?

Iran signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which affords nations the right to civilian nuclear technology in exchange for not acquiring nuclear weapons, then breached it on numerous occasions.

Naturally, Israel fears that removing sanctions will allow Tehran the breathing space it needs to exercise what Ali Khamenei has called his nation’s “nuclear rights”. Having failed to derail the deal, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has little choice but to live with it.

“Today the world became a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.

He reiterated his nation’s right to “defend itself by itself”, a veiled reference to a possible military strike against Iran.

However, with so many Western powers signing up to the deal, any unilateral military action by Israel could deepen its growing isolation.

Supporters of the deal point to limitations on Iran’s oil sales, including a ban on exports to the EU, that will not be lifted unless a final settlement is reached during further negotiations over the next six months. American negotiators insist Western financial pressure will not slacken in that time and that sanctions can be re-imposed if Iran fails to live up to its commitments.

One particular cause for concern is how the deal will be perceived by other oil-rich nations. Saudi Arabia, for instance, may be inspired to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran is seen as benefiting from a deal with the West.

What is most immediately worrying, though, is that the agreement leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact and will allow it to quickly resume its uranium enrichment programme if it unravels.

In the meantime, the deal relies too much on Iran’s goodwill, an undefined system of international inspections and the pain of those sanctions that remain.


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