Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Iranian Nuclear Deal : Will it be a Game Changer?

Brig SK Chatterji

The Iranian Nuclear Deal has created a storm in the Gulf. The deal has been arrived at between Iran and the P6 (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) after negotiating for years. The cascading effects of the deal go much beyond the Gulf to substantially influence geo-political equations between nations thousands of miles away from Ground Zero. It isn’t a question of who was the victor in the negotiations; outright victories too often fade into insignificance; but it’s more a question of: are old and established US relationships in the Gulf region in for realignment? What happens to the power equations across the Persian Gulf? Are Israel and Saudi Arabia the new bedfellows? What are the fallouts on our foreign policy?

Notwithstanding the maze of possibilities that the deal triggers, the foremost requirement is to evaluate the feasibility of the deal being implemented. Are the safeguards, adequate? Apparently, they are as good as they can be.

Iran is allowed to keep 5000 and 1000 Uranium enrichment centrifuges each at Natanz and Fordow’s underground facility, respectively. However, Iran will have no stocks of 20 % enriched Uranium. Iran will maintain upto 300 kg of 3.5 % enriched Uranium. Further, Iran will redesign its reactor at Arak so as not to be able to produce weapons grade Plutonium. The reactor’s spent fuel will be transhipped out and Iran will not go for any more heavy water reactors in the next 15 years. Iran may continue with its research as long as it’s directed only at peaceful use of nuclear energy. That keeps Iran far enough from the bomb to allow the west enough time to contemplate a military response should Iran decide to abjure the compliances it has accepted.

Iran has also agreed to an extensive inspection regime, including that of certain military facilities, and will thus adhere to the Additional Protocol of Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. The Iranian stance of all sanctions being immediately waived has not been accepted and these will be subject to full verifications. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that concluded a separate deal simultaneously, and announced that the compliances will be verified by December, 2015 and only then would the sanctions be lifted.

Though there is enough criticism from the Israelis and Saudis, the 139 page document seems as good as a deal can be. Yes, the success of the deal will be decided by the ability to monitor compliances. Provisions in the deal cater for non-compliance issues being raised at the UNO by anyone of the signatories. Should the UN fail to address the issues in 60 days, the deal falls through; and that takes care of a possible vetos by China and Russia.

The geo political fallouts of the deal are a wide array. Assad, the Syrian President, is surely the man satisfied the most. Iran was already feeling the stress of supporting the regime with its economy headed south. With almost $100 billion in frozen assets now available, surely the Iranians can provide Assad with the funding he requires. Tehran, however, may look beyond Assad and want to play a major role in resolving the Syrian conflict. One of the options is to bring in a transitional government without Assad but including the current regime, substantially.

Iran would also be able to provide greater assistance to Iraq. This is one country where the US and Iranians are already on the same side though they would rather keep the convergence a low key affair. The Houthis in Yemen would also get greater support, and the case for a dialogue to resolve the issues is more on the cards.

The biggest opponents of the deal are Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudis detest dilution of their supremacy in the Gulf. The sectarian divide in the middle-east could also witness a spike, resultantly. The deal could bring together Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar into a more proximate circle. The relationship between the first two is already on an upswing. The otherwise unlikely partner they may find is Israel, a country that has been sharply against the deal, all along.

US – Iran relations should progressively become more meaningful. Prior to the Iranian Revolution the countries enjoyed an excellent relationship during the reign of the Mohammed Reza Shah Pallavi, King of Iran. The geo political realities in West Asia and an orthodox leadership in Iran hardly permits a return to the old proximity, however, given conditions where Iran adheres by the compliances stipulated in the deal, the relationship can gradually strengthen. Of course, the US will have to balance the act with the fallouts it could have on its stable partnerships in the region that have been so stable for decades.

The growth of US – Iran relationship could catalyse a pro China - Russia leaning in the Gulf states. The Russians and Chinese will surely have sensed the opportunities and will be only to ready to countervail American power in the region with new alliances over the years ahead. However, both these countries have long nurtured strong ties with Iran which they would not like to throw away, either.

Closer home, Iranians will be able to play a bigger role in Afghanistan. Given the fact that the two countries share land borders, the Iranian role, should the regime at Kabul show signs of weakening, could involve substantial intervention. Afghanistan has a sizeable ethnic stock that traces its roots to Iran, and the latter has a moral responsibility to ensure they are not suppressed by a rampaging Taliban.

As far as India is concerned, the reduction in the oil and gas import bill could well bring down our current account deficit substantially. Iran has the 4th and 2nd largest oil and gas deposits in the world. In the bargain Indian companies in the oil and gas sector will find themselves more comfortable. ONGC Videsh may be able revive the Faizad B gas fields and possibly look at production. However, such a project will require further negotiations with Iran.

India has been exporting Basmati rice, sugar, barley, meat etc., to Iran at prices higher than the global market rates. When the sanctions are removed, Indian business will find the Iranian market more competitive.

Indian options in Afghanistan also increase substantially with an Iranian partnership should the situation in Afghanistan call for intervention with force. The possibility of logistics being located in Iran for deployment of troops in Afghanistan, is an option available. Such a situation would have never been allowed by the US, before the deal. However, now with the conditions very different and Afghan forces gradually losing ground to Taliban, Kabul may require more boots on ground than the US contingent that is being left there.

India will have to navigate carefully to maintain its relations with the gulf countries. Proximity to Iran will not be viewed positively by a lot of the GCC nations. It’s an old hazard that we have been able to successfully manoeuvre through, so far. The Israelis may also be sensitive to our rapport with Iran. They are also our major military equipment suppliers. However, it’s unlikely that minor reverses in the relationship would affect mutual trade and commerce.

The biggest winners in this deal are the Iranian people. They have lived a difficult life with the sanctions pulling the economy down. Their lives have been constrained by the imposition of restraints. With the country opening up to trade and commerce, possibly a more liberal attitude will ultimately prevail in Tehran and Iranians will live a fuller and richer life.

Brig SK Chatterji, Former Deputy Director General, Public Information at the Army HQ

Published Date: 22nd July 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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