Iran nuclear talks: challenges ahead (Daily Times (Pakistan))

Negotiations have continued in Vienna, Austria for some days to reach a final agreement between Iran and the world’s powers. It has been reported that the states engaged in negotiations have agreed on a tentative formula for sanctions relief but there are issues that are likely to hinder progress. One major issue is the divergent views of Iran and western powers over the lifting of UN sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and arms embargo. Iranians want these sanctions to be lifted when all other UN sanctions will be removed while western states insist on continuation of sanctions on the ballistic missiles programme.

This is not the only issue; there are many other debatable problems that need to be tackled to reach a final agreement. According to diplomats, the hardest issue negotiators have been facing since the start of the 18 months long talks still remains unresolved: the nature and extent of international inspections to monitor the peaceful nuclear programme. The preliminary nuclear accord announced in April 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 was to limit Iran’s nuclear programme for 15 years. It aimed at reducing Iran’s existing stockpiles of nuclear fuel and its capacity to produce new fuel to a level that would take a year for Iran to manufacture enough fuel for a nuclear weapon if Iran chooses to violate the accord.

In this regard, the most daunting task has been ensuring Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement. It was not sorted out in the April accord just how much access monitors would have and what would happen if the disagreement persists. The US wants all nuclear facilities anywhere in the country, including military facilities, to be subject to inspection to remove any doubts about covert nuclear facilities. While Iran has shown a mixed response as Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, ruled out inspections of military facilities on May 20, Iranian officials in Vienna, while talking to journalists, showed their willingness to accept additional, intrusive inspections proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Another related issue that needs to be discussed in detail is diluting, neutralising and removing the existing stockpile of nuclear fuel.

Iranian officials have been anxious to achieve the immediate removal of sanctions that have crippled their country’s economy and reduced energy exports while the US favours the gradual and phased removal of sanctions after ensuring Iran’s compliance with the terms of a final nuclear agreement. An agreement would be an important milestone in reducing the hostilities between Iran and the US that have engulfed their relations since 1979. It would be a gain for both leaders as well. President Obama faces the opposition of hardliners as well as Israel, its ally in the Middle East. The former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, while commenting on the deal argued that the Iranian nuclear programme was not the only contentious issue between the two states and that even if a deal were signed, there would still remain some issues between the two states.

The resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue will not be a step to check the future nuclear ambitions of other states. It is evident from the proceedings of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference 2015 when a resolution was presented by Egypt for establishing a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) free zone in the Middle East, an issue linked to the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. Disagreements among NPT parties were noted regarding this resolution and the parties blamed each other for disrupting the proceedings as no final agreement could be reached at the conference. It is noteworthy that Iran’s nuclear programme is not the only issue upon which the peace and stability of the Middle East rests; Israel’s nuclear programme is also perceived by regional states as a threat and establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is going to enhance trust among regional states and will strengthen the norms of non-proliferation.

The prospective Iran nuclear agreement is going to resolve a major issue in Iran-US bilateral relations, one that has a far-reaching impact on Iran’s relations with other states as well as regarding the energy trade. After the deal is signed, the Middle East, a volatile region, will continue to simmer in instability. There is a need to address the complex issues that engulf the region and help lead it to instability.