Reports 29 June, 2015

The Iranian Nuclear Agreement: Regional and Global Ramifications

The following is a summation of a one-day conference held on the Iranian nuclear deal and hosted in Doha by the ACRPS on April 7, 2015. Visit the event page here and find  Arabic language multimedia here.

Introduction    

The announcement of a framework agreement between Iran and the major powers can be marked as an important political development. Drawn up in Lausanne the agreement paves the way toward the end of twelve years of controversy over Iran’s nuclear program. The substance of the framework agreement will have serious repercussions for Iran’s nuclear capability, the internal Iranian balance of power, and Iran’s foreign relations, particularly with the United States. It will also have regional ramifications that are no less significant than the declaration of the agreement itself.

Following the signing of the framework agreement, Iran obtained recognition of its right to enrich uranium on its territories. It has, however, given up 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, agreed to dismantle more than two-thirds of its centrifuges, restricted its enrichment program to the Natanz facility, and accepted the restructuring of the other nuclear installations, with some being turned into research laboratories.

Apart from the agreement’s impact on Iran’s nuclear capability, it will have significant implications for the internal Iranian balance of power. It is expected that the agreement will lead to a weakening of the most extreme wing of the Iranian regime, while the agreement has led to widespread support for the wing lead by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, especially its middle class, which had long been keen to end Iran’s isolation, the economic siege, and sanctions. This likely heralds a flare up in the struggle between factions within the regime, which hold differing positions on the agreement and on opening up to the West in general. With the framework agreement including a gradual lifting of sanctions in the lead-up to the final deal, internal tensions are likely to continue. Indeed, the framework in anticipation of an eventual agreement, paves the way for normalization of relations with West, with four packages of economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council because of suspicions that it was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, will be successively dropped.

The current process also means changes for regional politics, with the agreement coming at a time when Tehran’s relations with the Arab world are in crisis. There are widespread fears in the Arab region that the nuclear agreement will encourage Iran’s efforts to impose its regional hegemony and expand influence in the Arab world. Iranian regional encroachment – seemingly bolstered by its signing of the Lausanne framework agreement – has seen a change in Iranian policy, the most significant of which was the start of Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen following the formation of the Saudi-led coalition to confront the advance of the Iranian-backed Ansar Allah group (the Houthis) and stop them taking control of Yemen. This new situation has given rise to new strategic thinking in the Gulf. The new political realities are shifting priorities and leading officials to take initiatives that will see the Gulf become more self-reliant in confronting Iranian influence, without relying on the usual reassurance of American measures to ensure Gulf security. Instead, Gulf nations have begun creating security and military alliances with important regional powers, states like Turkey and Pakistan.

From another perspective, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the alliance between Washington and Tehran to combat ISIL in Iraq represents an additional incentive to end the disagreement over Iran’s nuclear program. It is thus probable that the agreement will lead to the strengthening of Iranian-US military cooperation in the war against ISIL and other Sunni jihadi groups. Signs of this shift have started to emerge in a number of regions of Iraq, most recently in Tikrit.

To discuss the agreement and its potential wide-ranging regional effects, as well as ramifications for Arab and international positions, ACRPS held an academic seminar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Doha on April 11, 2015. The seminar was attended by a number of researches and academics concerned with the new developments. In attendance were: Azmi Bishara, Emad Khadouri, Mamdouh Salama, Abdel Wahhab al-Qassab, Hamid Dabashi, Khalid al-Dakhil, Marwan Kabalan, Ibrahim Sharqiya, Fatima al-Samadi, Haydar Saeed, Mahjoub al-Zawiri, Mahmoud Muharib, Camelia Entekhabifard, and Birol Baskan. Following an opening joint session, the participants divided into four working groups where they discussed the Lausanne agreement in terms of its context, technical content, impact on the domestic Iranian scene and regional crises, and implications for the future of Arab-Iranian relations.;;

The Path to the Iranian Nuclear Agreement    

The Iranian nuclear agreement was the result of a complex series of linked historical transformations.

On the global level, the ability of the American empire to deploy forces and enter simultaneous wars in different parts of the world has become clear, as has the usefulness of military force to defend “global freedom,” as it was called during the neo-conservative period, or to undertake “nation building” as, in an irony of history, it was called in Iraq. Over the second term of former president George W. Bush, the United States reassessed its global polices given the outcomes of its military interventions. This trend continued during the Obama administration, at which point American policy shifted toward attempts to “cool down” crises around the world. This can be seen in US attempts to lift sanctions on Myanmar and Cuba, as well as pursuing the negotiations that may lead to a lifting of the sanctions on Iran. This change is linked to the rise of Russia, which has taken up an international presence as ‘defender’ of the international order.

Regionally, Iran has recuperated following its eight-year war with Iraq, and gone on the offensive thanks to a confluence of interests with the United States in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq in (2003). In Iraq, Iran exploited the confusion of the US occupation, and its failure to deal with Iraq’s political and social complexities. Then, Iran confronted Iraqi resistance by regional expansion and consolidated its influence by means of sectarian parties by rebuilding the Iraqi army and security forces. Iran was thus able to take advantage of the United States and its allies, who had made the mistake of disbanding the Iraqi army and doing away with the entire existing apparatus of the state.

In the context of its expansion to the west, Iran exploited the hostility of Arab peoples towards Israel. With its pro-Palestinian discourse, the Iranian regime appealed to Arab public opinion. This seized an opportunity arising from the vacuum created by the Arab regimes who had once given up support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, but who now focused on the so-called peace strategy – starting with the Camp David model and progressing via the Oslo Accords, Wadi Araba, and the commitment to the Arab Peace initiative, which has gradually taken over the political sphere as far as Palestine is concerned. This has won some parties over to the Iranian side, making expansion easier. Also facilitating the program is the failure of Arab states to put forward a project for a regional state, or even rally the cooperation of nation states to stand up to the Iranian project. This failure has not only been regional cohesion, but also on the level of societies and peoples within Arab states. Opposing the Iranian program through the creation of a regional state would entail the promotion of development along citizen rights, and pulling the carpet from under the feet of Iranian propaganda. It would also require taking a principled position on the issue of Palestine as an Arab issue and not a burden to be shed.

Domestically, the Iranian revolution went through the same developments as many other revolutions, including those of the Arab Spring. Iran’s revolution was institutionalized and developed opposition groups including political realists, revolutionary purists who clung to the purity of the early days of the revolution, those who sought to transcend the revolution and move toward new historical stage, and those who combined elements of all of the above. This produced a set of internal conflicts on the level of both state and regime, as well as societally when it came to defining national aspirations. Thus, the current question of opening up to the West and emerging from the control of the clergy and its popular and military institutions has meant a resurgence of the schisms of the post-revolutionary period. This has created major challenges for the current Iranian leadership.

As a way of addressing internal disagreements, Rouhani and his camp are responding to domestic economic challenges by working to bring sanctions to an end, which will mean giving up of 13,000 of the country’s centrifuges. For a ten-year period, it will have to make do with operating 5,060 of the 19,000 it currently has. Iran has also agreed to limit the level of enrichment to 3.67 percent and to place its nuclear activity under the close oversight of international agencies. In practice, Iran has thus agreed to infringements on its sovereignty with regard to nuclear activities, in exchange for a gradual end to sanctions and improved relations with the West.

 

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