Finally, after eight days of intensive negotiations, on April 2 Iran and the P5+1 powers agreed a statement of intent, which will become the framework for the final deal to be signed in June 2015.
This does not mean the US administration has decided on a strategy of rapprochement with Iran – the proposed ‘framework’ does not address any issues beyond the immediate subject of the country’s nuclear installations. However, if the final deal is reached, it will herald a new era in the two countries’ bilateral relations and for Iran’s economic and trade relations with the European Union. Sections of Iran’s industry, paralysed by sanctions, will resume operation, the rate of inflation might fall if the price of the rial rises, and the price of basic goods might come down if the internal mafia of black marketeers can be controlled.
It is too early to speculate how all this will play out in detail, but we can safely, I think, predict four things. Firstly, European companies will return in the hope of securing new markets and large profits. Secondly, the Islamic Republic will persevere with its neoliberal economic policies. Thirdly, in any ensuing economic upturn, the gap between the rich and the poor will get wider, non-payment of workers’ wages will continue. Fourthly, the ‘reformist’ faction of the Islamic regime will maintain power for longer than one presidential election.
Lengthy negotiations are in store until the agreement is signed. And already opponents of the deal, inside and outside Iran, are lining up to denounce what is known about the main points. On paper it looks like both sides have made concessions, while keeping to their ‘red lines’. As far as uranium enrichment is concerned, Iran has agreed to reduce its centrifuges by approximately two-thirds, from 19,000 currently to 6,104, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years, and at levels below 3.67% for at least 15 years. The country will reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300kg of 3.67% LEU, while excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in storage and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran will convert its nuclear facility in Fordow so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium, again for at least 15 years. However, the country will be allowed to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years, with excess centrifuges being handed over to IAEA inspectors. Iran has also agreed to destroy the original heavy-water reactor in Arak. It will redesign and rebuild this reactor so that in future the plant cannot be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and instead the facility will be used to support peaceful nuclear research and produce radioisotopes.
In return, according to the official White House statement, “Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.” However, “If at any time Iran fails to fulfil its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.” Furthermore, “The architecture of US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.” Finally, “All past UN security council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD and transparency).”1
The two sides have different interpretations of both nuclear decommissioning and the lifting of ‘all sanctions’. One of the red lines of supreme leader Ali Khamenei has always been the demand that all sanctions (it is assumed by this he means sanctions imposed because of the country’s nuclear programme) will be lifted in one go. The US administration’s interpretation is that sanctions will be suspended gradually after each step of compliance with the agreement and lifted permanently after Iran has adopted all the measures stipulated by the agreement. Either way, the majority of the Iranian people are facing years more of misery, economic hardship and high inflation.
In its first session of the new Iranian year (1394) the Iranian majles (parliament) was divided on the subject. President Hassan Rowhani and his foreign minister have hinted that throughout negotiations in Lausanne Khamenei was informed of every detail and therefore the signed statement and details released by both sides have his seal of approval. Of course, the fact that there is confusion about the thorny issue of sanctions does not help and Iranian opponents of the deal have picked up on this. A day after his triumphant return from Lausanne, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was heckled in a session of the security committee of the majles. The arguments became so heated that he threatened to leave the meeting and cameras were removed. A leading conservative figure compared the deal to “trading a saddled horse for a few broken reins”.
However, other conservative figures welcomed the agreement and congratulated the government. The supreme leader is likely to express his opinion later in the week and it is expected he will give it a guarded welcome. The leader of Friday prayers, ayatollah Emami Kashani, who is close to the more conservative factions of the Islamic regime, hailed the deal. And in a significant move, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, expressed support for the agreement: “With God’s grace, the revolutionary children of Islamic Iran have succeeded in defending the rights of the Iranian nation, and the Revolutionary Guards appreciate their honest political efforts.”
The Iranian parliament might insist on a vote regarding the delay in the lifting of sanctions, but the government is only obliged to place the issue of Iran allowing more extensive inspection of the country’s nuclear facilities, as well as related industries, before parliament.
Rightwing Republicans and pro-Israeli Democrats in the US congress and senate will also try to stop the deal. Scott Walker, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said he would – if elected – “renege on any deal with Iran”, while Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, alleged: “Iranian leaders will now find a nuclear weapon dangerously within reach.”
Responding to such claims, Barack Obama went on the offensive to defend the deal, calling it the best possible option: “Bombing the country” and starting a new war in the Middle East would only set back Iran’s programme a few years, while just continuing sanctions would not be sufficient, as they had never stopped Iran “making progress with its nuclear programme”.2
The Iranian people have suffered considerably from the sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy, isolated its banks and financial institutions, yet now we hear from the US president that they made no difference to Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranian exiles (on the left and the right) who remain advocates of sanctions (or, as Hillary Clinton called them, “targeted sanctions”) should bear this in mind. By definition sanctions increase the power of the existing state, punish ordinary citizens and only result in two possible outcomes: regime change from above or the creation of a failed state, in both cases for the sole benefit of imperialism.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called the Lausanne agreement a “bad deal”, even though some, if not most, of his demands were added to the conditions by US secretary of state John Kerry, including the reduction of uranium stockpiles and the decommissioning of the current reactor in Fordow. So the Zionist leader is now forced to look for new demands. On April 4, he said the final deal must include Iran’s recognition of the state of Israel. A bizarre addition, given that these talks were supposed to be solely about Iran’s nuclear programme.
As negotiations dragged on in Lausanne, it was clear that all parties were desperate to reach a deal:
- For Iran it was necessary because the economy is on its knees following the collapse of the price of oil.
- For the EU because a new market desperate for goods and services in a semi-developed country, with a population of nearly 80 million, presents many ‘opportunities’.
- For the US because it is facing so many challenges in that part of the world that reaching agreement with Iran could be presented as the Obama administration’s crowning success.
As Iranians celebrated the possible end of punitive sanctions, many commented on the billions of dollars spent on developing nuclear plants, a project that benefited from astronomic funds at a time when most people were suffering from food shortages, lack of medicine … all courtesy of the west. The Iranian people have paid a heavy price for the supreme leader’s ‘heroic flexibility’ regarding the nuclear issue. Contrary to silly comments by sections of the exiled left, the celebrations on the streets of Tehran last Friday were not in support of the government, but an expression of hope that the economic situation will improve after sanctions are removed.
For the EU, the prospects of new markets were making some capitalists salivate. The ink on the Lausanne deal was barely dry before Richard Branson purred with satisfaction: “Well done to Iran’s foreign minister … in bringing home an historic deal for Iran and the world. Commendations to John Kerry and the leaders from the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany in reaching an agreement … There are millions of young, ambitious, decent Iranians who can now start to enjoy some prosperity in Iran, as sanctions are lifted without the threat of war.”3
However, predictions that Iran will become the US’s best friend in the region, or a regional economic power allied to the US at the expense of Saudi Arabia,4 are premature to say the least. Since 2001 US policy in the region has been such a disaster it is difficult to see how a deal with Iran will improve the situation. The world hegemon has managed to create and oversee disaster in Iraq following the invasion and occupation, and it has inflicted poverty, hunger and the threat of war on the peoples of Iran. It egged on fundamentalist groups in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, only for them to end up fighting each other in a civil war. During the ‘Arab spring’ the US supported president Hosni Mubarak until it became obvious that his regime could not survive, so it then tried to make deals with the Muslim Brotherhood and finally supported a military coup. A coup that effectively ended hopes of radical change for millions of Egyptians and Arabs.
Since 2012 the world hegemon power and its allies, encouraged by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, have been pursuing one aim: to weaken Iran’s regional influence. That is why they have supported jihadists in Syria (the same jihadists who ended up as Islamic State). While the rhetoric was for democracy and civil society, in practice the three main allies of the US were reactionary religious and semi-religious states: Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. As far as relations with the arch-enemy is concerned, while the Iranian people were punished through sanctions, the US administration had no hesitation in coming to arrangements with the regime whenever their common interests demanded it, including in the 2003 war in Iraq, in Afghanistan since 2001 and now in opposing IS in Syria or Iraq.
In Syria the regime of Bashar al-Assad remains the main enemy – because, according to many in and around the administration, Iran is more of a threat than IS. In the last few weeks there have been many days when the US army was bombing IS forces in northern Iraq, while using drones to attack pro-Assad forces in Syria and sending arms to jihadists fighting the Assad regime. In the first instance the enemy was this major threat to world peace, IS, while in the second it was about undermining Iran’s regional ambitions. All this while Obama’s secretary of state was engaged in the nuclear negotiations.
Muddled and ineffective US foreign policy in the region has been disastrous for the peoples of the Middle East and north Africa, those who have to live with the subsequent chaos. Many have argued this is symptomatic of a superpower in decline and there is historical precedence to validate such an argument. On the other hand, it could be that there is method in this madness, that the world hegemon power is deliberately following a policy of producing failed states: Iraq, Syria, Libya , Yemen … Far from seeking stability, it could be that the US actually wants to spread chaos, hoping to benefit from national, regional and religious divisions, thanks to the good old tactic of divide and rule. With current US policy there is the prospect of decades of war, civil strife and regime change in the region.
The deal in Lausanne has done nothing to change this.
1. Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program:www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/04/240170.htm.