The Vienna deal on Iran’s nuclear program does not erase 35 years of hostility between Washington and Tehran, nor does it signal their reconciliation. “It is not built on trust,” declared President Barack Obama, “it’s built on verification.” Beyond that, he’s taking Iran out of the prison of containment, which is essential. On the violent and clogged up horizon of the Middle East, this represents a risky bet, most certainly, but necessary and reaffirming.
Verification is the key word in this deal that its critics – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia, the Republican majority in Congress, Stephen Harper’s Canada, etc. – will attack on all fronts. They will do so by taking all possible shortcuts, and without really, in the end, presenting arguments other than that this is evil-doing, and will lead [Iran] to act exactly how the tough wing of the Iranian regime is already acting when it comes to agitating Iranian opinion against the West.
While Iran is a semi-democracy that is kept on a tight leash by the mullahs, that doesn’t mean it is an abominable dictatorship like North Korea, a country that has closed its doors. While Washington played a leadership role in the negotiations through Secretary of State John Kerry, let’s not forget that the agreement is also the work of a united front of six powers (the U.S, Russia, China, France, the U.K. and Germany) whose interests are far from always being aligned. What makes it constructive is that the deal announced last Tuesday, July 14, seals, by enforcing it, an interim agreement that was concluded in November 2013, to which Iran, despite the brilliant manipulation that no one noticed, is following to the letter.
By virtue of the Vienna deal, Iran therefore agrees to be subject to an enforceable process that will allow inspection of its nuclear industry. The deal obviously does not eliminate the risk of Iran having a nuclear weapon, but it does significantly limit that possibility for the next 10 to 15 years. In response to the progressive lifting of financial sanctions and of the embargo on exporting its oil, Iran is complying with an exhaustive list of conditions. It is agreeing to reduce its centrifuges by two-thirds and to limit its uranium enrichment.
The provisions related to the fight against nonproliferation, adopted by the Security Council in 2006, will remain in effect for 10 years or until the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed the exclusively pacifist character of Iran’s nuclear program. In the deleterious context of the Middle East, the embargo on ballistic missiles and on the sale and purchase of certain major weapons will be maintained for periods of five to eight years.
Nonetheless, none of this will calm the outbursts from a mob of critics.
Just as fundamental is the fact that beyond all these technical/diplomatic considerations and besides being extremely important, the deal signifies historic progress in Iran’s reinsertion into the world order. The focus on the old Iran-American conflict will ease up (clearly without Iran's expansionist intentions in the region disappearing), especially since Iran has become a U.S. ally in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Some want to believe that President Obama is demonstrating an act of faith that is similar to that of Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago with China. Perhaps.
But we are allowed to consider that in agreeing to back a deal with the West that touches on Iran’s very security, ultraconservatives who have power in Tehran are taking the country on the most unprecedented, strategic turn since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and that they are taking note, on the social front, of the pressing desire of Iranians, almost of half of which are under the age of 25, to re-establish connection with the outside world.
Stifled by all the sanctions, Iranian society has continued to show its impatience with the regime and to demand modernization since the first election of the moderate Mohammed Khatami in 1997. Repression has often been violent. Also, this deal undeniably represents a victory for President Hassan Rouhani’s reformist camp, which was elected in 2013. What will it bring? Progress is fragile, doubtful, but it is constructive nonetheless.