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Iran-United States Nuclear Deal Promises to be Strategic Game Changer

Paper No. 5609                                        Dated 25-Nov-2013

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations

The Iran-United States Nuclear Deal finalised yesterday promises to be a strategic game-changer for the United States in the Middle East where the United States was lately floundering.

With this Deal, even though it is the first Step of six months validity to begin with, is a significant step for both the United States and Iran who finally after decades have been impelled by contemporary strategic realities to advance from their rigid adversarial stances to a dialogue process on the vexatious issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.

This Nuclear Deal arrived at by United States and the major global powers with Iran come through after much stiff opposition both domestically in both countries and from US regional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In my interpretation the US-Iran Nuclear Deal is more significant than the US-China Shanghai Communique of 1972 normalising US-China relations. The US deal with China was to foist a new balance of power in East Asia at the expense of the former Soviet Union, with the United States overlooking that China had waged war against USA in Korea and later its military involvement in the Vietnam War.

The US-Iran Nuclear Deal implicitly recognises that Iran is the naturally pre-eminent power in the Middle East and specifically in the Gulf Region and it was in US security interests to cease its obliviousness to this reality. Further till 1979 Iran was the main pillar of the United States security architecture in the Middle East. Significantly it was then that the United States itself had laid the foundations of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Iran-United States ‘Joint Action Plan’ in the Nuclear Deal: Salient Features

Terming the US-Iran Interim Agreement process as ‘Joint Action Plan’ itself is suggestive that it is not an imposition on Iran and that both Iran and the United States along with the major global powers are committed to jointly ensure that it works. Full text of the ‘Joint Action Plan’ is carried in full in most media publications and is not being reproduced here.

The opening sentence of the Preamble reads” The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually agreed long term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.”

 Under this deal Iran during these six months will stop enriching uranium beyond 5% and initiate steps to neutralise its holdings of 20% LEU by neutralising it within Iran. Additionally, Iran will not increase its present levels of centrifuges, stop further development of Heavy Water Reactor at Arak and allow access to UN inspectors.

In return Iran will benefit by not being subjected to any sanctions during this period which would be related to Iran’s nuclear programme and release of some of the impounded cash and gold reserves.

The six month initial validity can be extended by mutual consultations. The intention in this regard seems to be to put a hold on Iranian nuclear programme during these six months and then work out modalities for a more comprehensive agreement.

Possibly, Iran may have been getting closer in terms of capabilities to nuclear weaponisation and hence putting an interim hold. Iran too gets a breather economically in terms of sanctions which had begun to impact adversely on Iran.

Iran-United States Nuclear Deal: A Strategic Game Changer in the Middle East

Iran-United States strategic rapprochement sheerly for strategic gains by the United States was being strongly advocated in my Papers of the last decade. Such a deal if fully consummated in the years to come would open out a new substantial US strategic blueprint for the United States for its continued embedment in the Middle East.

The ensuing balance of power arising from a Iran-United States rapprochement would couple the global might of the United States with the Iranian predominantly natural attributes of power and thereby contribute to overall peace ,security and stability og Greater South West Asia.

For far too long the United States has been held captive by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan overselling their strategic utility to US national security interests. As far back as 1989 I had written that Pakistan would always strongly oppose or scuttle any Iran-US rapprochement as in that eventuality, Pakistan would lose its ‘front-line state’ status in US policy formulations.

With Iran, if won over by the United States eventually, the United States would be free to dispense with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

With Iran on its side the United States does not have to be strategically concerned or fearful of the ‘Shia Crescent; in the Northern tier of the Middle East.

In the contemporary context with US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States with better management approaches to Iran could open shorter and less troublesome routes for drawback of its military forces in Afghanistan along Iranian arteries as compared to Pakistan.

It needs to be recorded here that during the entire US military intervention in Afghanistan for over a decade, Iran has never destabilised the Western borders of Afghanistan to strategically discomfit the United States. Normalised Iran-US relations could offer shorter access to United States to the Central Asian Republics.

Cutting it short, the United States has a lot to gain strategically in Greater South West Asia by this strategic masterstroke.

US-Iran Nuclear Deal will Face Strong Opposition Regionally

Since the major global powers are a party to the Interim Agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme, there is less likelihood of opposition at the global level to this Deal.

In terms of domestic opposition within the United States, it is bound to be considerable counting the mind-sets of the Cold War gladiators and the Non-proliferation Ayatollahs that abound in Washington. There will also be strong pressures from Jewish lobbies within the United Sates. The US Administration can be expected to navigate itself successfully through this domestic opposition moreso when the positive fallouts on a sluggish US economy begin to dawn on the US public.

Domestic opposition within Iran is less likely to surface with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stating that he is not opposed to the deal but cautioning that Iranian negotiators should not concede too much in future negotiations

In the Middle East the strongest opposition is already in motion from Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Gulf States are mute on this count.

Support for this deal has come from Iraq and Syria and significantly from Palestine.

Israel’s opposition is natural but then Israel has to recognise that Israeli security is a national security interest of the United States and that the US will not embark on any initiatives which would impact Israeli security adversely.

The real troublesome opposition is likely to emerge from Saudi Arabia. Already implicit hints have been floated that with the Iranian nuclear programme not really checkmated under this Deal, Saudi Arabia may opt for its own nuclear weapons. Obviously, these have to come from Pakistan in whose nuclear weapons programmes Saudi Arabia over the decades has invested heavily.

Surely, the United States can take care of any Saudi Arabia-Pakistan nuclear blackmail.

However, one can expect Saudi Arabia using its financial and Islamic clout with the Sunni world to cause sub-surface turbulence in the Gulf Region.

Strong opposition to the Iran-US Nuclear Deal is a logical corollary when such a significant initiative carries in it the seeds to change the strategic landscape of the Middle East.

Concluding Observations

The full materialisation of the Iran-US Nuclear Deal may take years to finalise but what is important is that the first steps have been taken towards the end-game of normalisation of US-Iran relations which were long overdue.

In these six months of the Interim Joint Plan a lot of diplomacy would be required in terms of confidence-building measures and not let any domestic and regional opposition to distort the process that has been set in motion.

The United States and Iran need to be complimented for breaking the three decades old gridlock even though both nations have been impelled to move forward by prevailing strategic realities.

Russia too needs to be complimented for facilitating this move forward by Iran. Possibly the United States may like to have a rethink on American policy formulations towards Russia.