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Iran nuclear agreement not universally welcomed

Situation Room at the White House during the Iran nuclear talks
Situation Room at the White House during the Iran nuclear talks Reuters

On Thursday, Iran and the Five Permanent Members of the UN and Germany, the so-called P5+1, reached a framework agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme. Details are now to be worked out, and the deadline of a final deal is set for the end of June.

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After 18 months of harrowing negotiations, US President Barack Obama was finally able to announce that there has been a major breakthrough.

Calling the nuclear framework deal historic, he said that if implemented it will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions   our own sanctions, and sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council."

But he warned that if Iran violates the deal, "sanctions can be snapped back into place".

Officials in Geneva did not give many specific technical details on the agreement.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry was optimistic. He thinks that the deal will slow down Iran’s capability to build a bomb.

"It is a deal that will increase Iran’s break-out time, which was confirmed publicly today to be two to three months. That is the time that it would take Iran to speed up its enrichment in order to produce enough material to produce one potential nuclear weapon. That will be expanded now, under this deal, to one year."

 Proud people

 Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, says that current nuclear facilities will not be forced to shut down.

"The proud people of Iran would never accept that," he said. "Our facilities will continue, we will continue enriching, we will continue research and development, our heavy water reactor will be modernised and we will continue the Fordo facility."

Tehran disclosed information about this Fordo facility in 2010 to the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is one of about 20 known nuclear facilities in Iran.

Israel has for years said that Iran’s nuclear projects are aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

Right after US President Obama announced the agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave him a call, protesting it.

Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist with Bar Ilan University, says that the agreement is a direct threat to Israel’s safety.

"There certainly is a sense that Israel is being left behind, and Israel is the most threatened country because of the Iranian illegal nuclear weapons programme," he said. 

 Short time

 Other critics in Israel, such as Efraim Asculai, of the Institute for National Security Studies, think that the West is turning a blind eye, and that it will be just a matter of time before Iran develops the bomb   much shorter than the one year predicted by US secretary of State John Kerry.

"‘I’m basing my technical assessment only on what is reported by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency … I think today, the US and France and many other countries know that if Iran reaches the decision to produce a nuclear weapon, it can do this in rather a short time."

Nuclear specialists, such as Siegrfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos Nuclear facility, agrees, but thinks that it all depends on Tehran’s political will.

"They developed the nuclear weapon option but they have not yet exercised that option," he said.

Meanwhile, the latest developments don’t only make waves in Israel and the US.
Regional enemies of Iran are increasingly nervous about Tehran’s growing influence in the region.

Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says that the agreement, as it stands now, is a major victory for Iran.

"From their perspective, what the great powers may agree to is to let Iran have considerable influence in both Syria and Iraq, in addition to its current influence in Lebanon, and that would consolidate a belt across the Middle East," Clawson said. "And that makes them very, very nervous."

 Symbolism

 As for the sanctions, they were already partly lifted, and this process may now continue.

But, says Rouzbeh Parsi, an Iran specialist with Lund University in Sweden, the material effect of lifting the sanctions won’t be that big.

"The most important aspect of this is the symbolism, more than actual money," he said. "At the moment we will be dealing with the unfreezing of some Iranian assets. And it’s not a huge amount of money. But it is more the principle that Iran is getting something for what it is   and that they can build on that momentum.

"But of course for the Iranian economy, that in itself would be important, both in terms of the actual money that will get in, but also because it will build confidence inside the country and that in itself would probably make the economy run better."

But other analysts don’t agree, and say that the current sanctions are keeping a strangle hold over Iran’s economy.

Foad Izadi, an analyst with Tehran University, says that the man in the street is a direct victim of the sanctions imposed by the West.

"Iran is loosing about 4 to 5 billion dollars a month because of the sanctions that the country is facing," he points out. "The main sanctions that are causing difficulties for the Iranian people are in the banking sector and in the energy sector, the oil sector. And I think that those must have priority."

In Iran itself, the news of Thursday’s agreement was greeted with great joy, and people were reportedly dancing in the streets and waving flags.

But Danesh Borna, an Iranian citizen contacted by RFI, was sceptical about the deal.
He said that any country is entitled to have nuclear projects, and that the sanctions are completely out of place.

He does not trust the deal as it stands now, he says.

"The US has an over 200-year history of going back on agreements it has made. If that doesn’t happen during the Obama administration, I think there is a good chance that during the next administration - especially if it is a Republican administration   that they are going to avoid the deal that’s been made."

 

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