Originally Published 2015-07-17 00:00:00 Published on Jul 17, 2015
From a non-proliferation perspective, the Iran nuclear deal is a good one provided it is complied with. A lot will depend on Iran?s adherence to the commitments under the deal but it is difficult to have much faith in Iranian commitments because of its repeated failures in the past. And, from a regional security perspective, the deal is disastrous.
Iran nuclear deal: Mountain of uncertainties

The conclusion of a nuclear deal between P-5+1 and Iran has been described as path breaking or a historic mistake, depending where these voices are coming from. Calling it a diplomatic victory, US President Barrack Obama stated "every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off" as far as Iran is concerned. Iran President Hassan Rouhani too characterised the deal as "historic" unleashing a "new chapter" between Iran and the world.

However, rejecting it outright, Israeli Prime Minister called the deal "a historic mistake." Saudi Arabia is yet to come out with a clear response, but as in the case of the April 02 agreement, the reaction is likely to be cautious and muted in the open realm, but one has to watch for its actions on the ground to make sense of the Saudi response. The Saudi interest in buying Iskander tactical missiles from Russia is just one case in point. The recent Russia-Saudi Arabia agreement to cooperate in nuclear energy is another indicator of what Saudi Arabia is likely to do. All the non-proliferation ayatollahs around the world have been quick to endorse the deal as the best possible option.

The 159-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed on July 14 can be considered a step forward given that there have been several attempts in the past by the US and EU to halt Iran's nuclear programme. The West has tried different means including sanctions and technology denial measures to restrict Iran's nuclear activities, but with limited success. Iran being a hard case, these measures have only slowed, not halted its nuclear programme. The July 14 agreement says that the US and its European partners will ease the national and international sanctions that have been in place following Tehran's non-compliance with UN stipulations to quit certain suspicious activities relating to its nuclear programme. However, it remains to be seen how effective the implementation of this deal will be. There are already serious reservations, particularly within the Middle East about the nature of the deal and its efficacy in limiting the Iranian nuclear activities. Lack of compliance by Tehran could compound the anxieties and lead to developments that are not ideal for the region and for the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture.

Supporters of the Iran deal argue that a deal in hand is better than no deal at all while the critics hold the view that no deal is better than a bad deal. Those who argue that the deal has provisions for the most stringent verification measures, including strict and continuous monitoring and inspection processes and therefore Iran cannot deviate from its commitments under the JCPOA, is not entirely correct. A 24-day multi-layered verification dispute settlement process is good enough for Iran to cover up all its suspicious activities.

The Iranian nuclear issue is certainly a conundrum - even if there is a deal, Iran can cheat and call it quits in a few years, and on the other hand, if there is no deal, Tehran is at total freedom and the international community has no lever to control. So, either ways, Iran could pursue the weapons route. But the manner in which the deal has been worked out, Iran has received great benefits. This is for many reasons. One, Iran was supposed to have completed detailing to the IAEA about Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) well before and now under the deal, Tehran has been given time until October 2015 to do so. It remains to be seen whether Iran will comply or not because there have been several such Tehran commitments in the past that have not been adhered to. Way back in November 2011, the IAEA had found several instances of Iranian activities that could only be explained as part of a weapons development programme. The repeated Iranian failures to comply with commitments do not give any confidence that Iran is going to stick by its commitments this time around. Major powers, including the US, seem to have taken the issue quite lightly and it is possible that Iran will not do the explanation and yet the deal will sail through. Two, the provisions in the deal allowing for Iranian enrichment is unprecedented, and something the US does not allow for even its allies. This is precisely why there is a caveat in the final deal to state that this deal is unprecedented and that a similar deal cannot be worked out for other states. Three, the issue around inspections is also of concern. The "anytime, anywhere" inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities has been given up for what Obama says "where necessary, when necessary." As per the deal, once the IAEA makes a demand to inspect a particular site, Iran has 14 days to respond, either fulfilling the demand or provide other ways to satisfy the IAEA. If the IAEA is not satisfied with the response, then a joint commission with members from each of the 8 participating countries will have a week to take a particular course of action, after which Iran will be given three days to meet the demand. This multi-layered inspection scheme provides Tehran with adequate time to cover up or destroy any evidence. Four, the participating countries have been easy on Iran and they complied by the Iranian demand to end sanctions immediately. Sanctions were meant to be phased out in a gradual manner depending on the Iranian compliance over a period of time.

What does the deal mean in terms of non-proliferation and broader regional security? From a non-proliferation perspective, the deal is a good one provided it is complied with. A lot will depend on Iran's adherence to the commitments under the deal but it is difficult to have much faith in Iranian commitments because of its repeated failures in the past. But from a regional security perspective, the deal is disastrous. The US allies have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves. A reluctant US administration under Obama had shown signs of abandoning US allies and their concerns for a while but the Iranian deal has taken it to another level. The deal has implications even beyond the Middle East for the Asia Pacific also. The manner in which the US has sidelined the Saudi and Israeli concerns in favour of working out this deal with Iran is being closely watched by the Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea. They will worry about a potential situation where the US will work with North Korea in securing a similar deal, yet again abandoning the concerns of the US allies.

(Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

1   Russia and Saudi Arabia have already inked a legal framework agreement to begin their cooperation in nuclear energy. Specifically, these include construction of nuclear power reactors, service in the area of nuclear fuel cycling, such as for nuclear power stations and research reactor facilities. "Russia and Saudi Arabia ink nuclear energy deal, exchange invites," Russia Today, June 18, 2015, http://www.rt.com/news/268198-russia-saudi-nuclear-agreements/.

2   "Iran nuclear deal 'a pretty good outcome' - IISS," BBC News, July 14, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33517892; Kelsey Davenport and Daryl G. Kimball, "An Effective, Verifiable Nuclear Deal With Iran," Iran Nuclear Policy Brief, Arms Control Association, July 15, 2015, http://www.armscontrol.org/files/ACA_Iran_Deal_15_July_2015.pdf ; Mike Pesca, "Let's Grade a Deal (Iran Edition)," July 15, 2015, http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/gist/2015/07/the_gist_jeffrey_lewis_on_the_iran_nuclear_deal_and_national_debt_explained.html; Stein, "We Have A Deal," ArmsControWonk, July 15, 2015, http://armscontrolwonk.com/archive/5558/we-have-a-deal; Dylan Matthews, "Arms control experts are tweeting praise for the Iran nuclear deal," Vox World, July 15, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/7/15/8963973/arms-control-nonproliferation-iran-tweets.

For an alternate and a realistic perspective on some elements of the deal, see William Tobey, "The Iranian Nuclear-Inspection Charade," Commentary, The Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-iranian-nuclear-inspection-charade-1437001048.

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Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Dr Rajeswari (Raji) Pillai Rajagopalan is the Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology (CSST) at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.  Dr ...

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