Published by Embassy, an Ottawa-based foreign policy weekly.
When the dust has settled, the fact will remain that the interim agreement reached on Nov. 24 in Geneva concerning Iran’s nuclear program was the best deal the international community could get. As uncertain as its success may be, the reality is that no better alternative was attainable.
The negotiations that led to this historic agreement were not a set of exploratory side meetings among middle-ranking diplomats. Nor were they an exercise in Track II diplomacy involving civil society. This was the whole shebang: a concerted diplomatic effort of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the European Union, Germany and Iran—with the full weight and authority of their foreign ministers and heads of state. And this is what they were able to deliver.
Of course the agreement is fraught with risk and uncertainty—did anyone realistically expect otherwise? Even so, it is the best chance in decades to forge a path that could lead to the peaceful resolution of the volatile deadlock between much of the world and Iran.
The parties involved would do well to see it through.
It should come as no surprise that both sides had to compromise in order to reach the deal; unilateral concessions were never in the picture. Still, Israel and some members of the United States Congress object to the easing by the West of the crippling sanctions in place against Iran, even as most analysts see the extent of sanctions relief provided by the deal as relatively minor.
In exchange, Iran is committed to the implementation of a series of measures aimed at curbing its capacity to develop nuclear weapons. For example, it agreed to dilute its most highly enriched uranium under international supervision.
Other issues, such as the ability of Iran to manufacture nuclear components away from the sites under inspection, are not covered by the current agreement and are seen by some as a potential loophole. Negotiations on a longer-term, more robust deal will continue to address such matters.
While cheating on the deal could certainly occur, now there is the possibility of good faith progress on a solution. Close scrutiny will help to ensure compliance and Iran will undoubtedly face dwindling options should it decide to blow this opportunity.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to dismiss the agreement as a “historic mistake.” Israel has said for years that not only is Iran bent on developing a nuclear capability to threaten the Jewish state’s existence, but that it is months away from doing so. According to a recent Washington Post editorial, if the deal’s provisions were not implemented, Iran could produce enough nuclear material for a bomb in just one month.
Nonetheless, it is a bit hard to reconcile the country’s purported desire and capacity to produce a nuclear weapon in such a short period with the actual absence of a single bomb.
In a familiar turn of events, Canada quickly aligned itself with Israel. Less than a day after the details of the agreement started trickling in, Canada expressed “deep skepticism” over its provisions. It would be interesting to know exactly which form a realistically attainable agreement would need to take in order to avoid such skepticism. Or how it could be pursued or supported by Canada given its policy of non-engagement with Iran.
Canada argues that Iran should not get the benefit of the doubt with this agreement given its history of incendiary rhetoric against Israel and questionable transparency over its nuclear program. But it was precisely this troubled history which prompted the pursuit of the deal in the first place.
In any case, it will be verification—not blind trust—which determines Iran’s compliance.
The complex challenges posed by the Iranian nuclear program must be understood in the context of the global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime, which has been under pressure on various fronts. While some states demand that others refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons, they preserve their own nuclear arsenals. This includes Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.
If the mere possibility of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability in the future is such an unacceptable threat, how can the already-existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons in other countries not be?
Success or failure of the deal with Iran will soon become clear, and the next few months will be a critical test of both diplomatic capacity and political will for those involved in its implementation. But it must be given a chance, even if it is a modest start to a risky venture.
© 2013 Hill Times Publishing