The agreement made in Lausanne between the US and Iran on the nuclear issue has been referred to as “historic” by both sides. While the negotiations were formally carried out between P5+1 (the 5 permanent Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran, it was, in reality, a negotiation between the US and Iran. Iran has offered to scale back its nuclear fuel enrichment program, linking such steps with the lifting of various sanctions. The exact sequence – the steps Iran will take, and the lifting of the sanctions by the US, EU and the UN – are yet to be worked out and will, presumably, be the subject of further negotiations.
Whether the negotiations will deliver a final agreement on Iran's nuclear program and a lifting of sanctions still remains to be seen. The final agreement is supposed to be achieved by June. Will it be completed by that date? Or will it drag on for some more time? Will the exact sequencing of Iran's actions and lifting of sanctions be resolved? And can the US right-wing hawks scupper the deal in the US Congress? None of these questions can be answered easily. The devil is in the detail and that devil has yet to be put to rest.
Iran Sanctions or Economic War
Why is this agreement important, despite this need to iron out all final details? The sanctions imposed by the US and its allies on Iran was fundamentally designed to destroy its economy. The objective was to force Iran to submit to US hegemony in the region; the bomb was only the pretext. Iran made repeated offers to freeze its nuclear enrichment program, while retaining a token capacity to enrich fuel as its right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. But the US rejected all such proposals and ratcheted up sanctions. The result was Iran’s expansion of its nuclear fuel enrichment program. The more sanctions the US introduced, the more Iran expanded its nuclear program, with the assurance that it would only be used for peaceful purposes.
The US intelligence agencies repeatedly gave their assessments that after 2003, Iran completely dismantled its nuclear bomb program. Even though Netanyahu says otherwise, this is also the assessment of the Israeli agencies. The US and Israeli insistence is that Iran must prove a negative: Prove to us that you are not making a bomb. This is similar to the earlier US demands on Iraq – which was Prove to us that you do not have WMDs. A negative is impossible to prove. The US and Israeli hawks are using this impossibility to argue for a war with Iran.
With Iran refusing to submit, it was clear that sanctions were not working. The only option left for the US was to either negotiate with Iran or go to war. Finally, the US has decided to negotiate instead of the war that would have been the inevitable result of escalating the sanctions regime. Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian American Council, has written, “Peace won. War lost. It’s as simple as that... A cycle of escalation has been broken – for the first time, Iran’s nuclear program will roll back, as will the sanctions ...”
Some believe that a US and Iran settlement on the nuclear issue is part of a larger rapprochement between the US and Iran to defeat the Islamic State (IS). The current developments, particularly in Yemen and Syria, show that this is not the case. The US is likely to follow a policy of simultaneous attack on the resistance axis – Hezbollah-Syria-Iran -- as well as a limited engagement with Iran. It will view its best course of action as bleeding the resistance axis in a sectarian Shia-Sunni battle, while preventing the IS from dominating the region. In other words, a contained IS that can be used against the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah forces, while not threatening their pet Sunni monarchies.
What has Iran agreed to? Iran is scaling down its number of centrifuges from 19,000 to about 6,000 -- out of which about 5,000 will be used for fuel enrichment. It has also agreed to reduce its inventory of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) of 3.57% purity, from 10,000 kg to 300 kg. It will not use the Arak research reactor, which has the capability of producing plutonium, for any other purpose except research and the production of radio isotopes for medical purposes. Similarly, it will not use Frodow facilities for the enrichment of uranium. Iran has also accepted more intrusive inspections by the IAEA under its Additional Protocol, and agreed to expand these beyond the protocol to cover, for instance, mining and the production of centrifuges.
In lieu of these serious concessions, what have the US and EU agreed to? They will lift sanctions in stages, with the sequence dependent on Iran's dismantling that part of the nuclear infrastructure agreed to in Lausanne. Here lies the catch. If the US insists that the IAEA has to be “satisfied” that Iran has taken all the necessary steps under the agreement, this quest for satisfaction led by IAEA Director General (DG) Amano could drag on for years. Meanwhile, Iran would continue to be under sanctions.
What Remains to be Settled
The Wikileaks documents show that Amano pledged to do the US bidding on Iran and its nuclear program before the US supported his candidature. He worked closely with Israel; in fact, he used one of the bogus documents Israel submitted to IAEA, claiming that Iran was continuing its nuclear program. Under the previous DG, El Baradei, the IAEA had rejected these documents as fraudulent. So if the IAEA becomes the “umpire” on Iran's commitments, it could become a very partial umpire. The US can then drag its feet on lifting of the sanctions. This is the thorny issue that will, presumably, be resolved in the final agreement; otherwise, this agreement may still fail. The second issue: what are the sanctions that will be lifted? A number of sanctions have been imposed by the Security Council and the EU. These are easy to lift. Several judgements of EU courts have declared the EU sanctions illegal. The lifting of the UN Sanctions will require a resolution of the Security Council, which, again, may not be difficult. The real problem is the lifting of US sanctions. Some of these are aimed at Iran's nuclear program. Obama may find them easy to lift. But there are those sanctions have been imposed under the specious plea that Iran supports terrorism. These need to be lifted by the Republican-controlled Congress; without Congress support, Obama may not be able to deliver on the agreement.
The US, its Allies and Terrorism
The US accusation of support for terrorism shows its cynical double standards. The US has attacked countries illegally, bypassing the UN – Iraq and Libya are obvious examples. The US carries out summary executions using drones and missiles in other countries, in violation of international law. These are all terrorist activities. So are the acts of war that Israel, its closest ally in the region, has repeatedly launched on Gaza.
Further, the Saudi-Turkey-US axis has been openly supporting various terrorist groups in Syria. Israel and the US are now in open alliance with Jabahat al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. High level officials, former generals and senior US Congressman are on record expressing their preference for IS (or ISIL or Daesh) to Iran. The disgraced General Petraues, the father of the Iraqi 'surge‘, has openly stated that Iran, not IS, is the real enemy of the US in West Asia.
Such an alignment -- with the most sectarian and retrogressive groups in this region -- is a continuation of a policy begun during Eisenhower’s time, then expanded under successive presidencies. The alliance of the CIA, ISI (the Pakistani spy agency) and the Saudis launched the “holy war” against Nur Mohammed Taraki’s progressive government of in Afghanistan. We all know what followed: the rise of al Qaeda and Taliban. Similarly, the illegal Iraq War the US launched has created the latest “terrorist” avatar, the IS. The west's Libyan war saw the rise of similar forces while giving a huge fillip to their counterparts in other countries in North Africa.
What we see today as “terrorist” groups have been incubated under the benign eye of the west and its allies in the region. The west supports the most sectarian and retrogressive form of Islam, Wahabi Islam. This is also the favourite form of the reactionary monarchies in the region: Saudi petrodollars back this sectarian and distorted form of Islam, not the more inclusive Islam practised in different parts of the world.
It is not Iran that is promoting terrorism in the region, but the US and its NATO allies. They are continuing their containment-of-Iran policy by creating a Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict in the region. The monarchies see the promotion of the sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict as the only way to remain in power; this is why they eschew democratisation, and support, instead, sectarian conflicts, war against all “heretics” (takfiris – Shias, Ahmediyas, secularists) women, and Shia Iran.