You’ll have been forgiven for thinking Greece was the only diplomatic show in town, but Vienna has just hosted another, arguably more significant, set of international negotiations.
Iran has agreed to limit its nuclear program if the U.S. and other world powers ease economic sanctions against the country.
The 100-page deal (complete with no less than five technical appendices) hopefully concludes a decade of diplomatic wrangling aimed at keeping Iran from building a nuclear bomb. U.S. and Israeli officials say a nuclear-armed Iran would be a security disaster and potentially lead to war because of Tehran’s support for anti-Israel militant groups, such as the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, and frequent references by Iranian leaders to Israel’s destruction.
Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful and that it never sought to build a bomb. The talks were mostly considered stalemated until summer 2013, when Iran elected a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who said the country was ready to strike a deal.
The final agreement with Iran was negotiated by U.S., Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia, also known as the P5+1.
What has been agreed?
Iran has agreed to reduce the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges it has in stock, as well as its stockpile of enriched uranium. It also has agreed to convert an enrichment site called Fordo — dug deep into a mountainside and thought impervious to air attack — into a research center.
Another key piece is the possibility of inspections: if the U.N. nuclear agency identifies a suspicious site, it can ask to inspect it. And if Iran refuses, an arbitration panel will decide whether the Iranians have to open up the site to inspection within 24 hours.
All of this is aimed at slowing down the rate at which Iran could, in theory, build a nuclear weapon. Israel and many observers maintain this has always been Iran’s aim.
In exchange, Iran stands to receive more than $100 billion in assets overseas that had been frozen by other countries. It also will see an end to a European oil embargo and other financial restrictions on its banks. If Iran reneges on its promises, the sanctions will snap back into place. What constitutes ‘reneging’ is unclear at this moment.
What did the West concede?
Among the biggest concession by the West is that Iran doesn’t have to submit to international inspections anytime, anywhere. Because the process for inspections could end up with an arbitration panel, access to the Islamic Republic’s most sensitive sites isn’t guaranteed and may be delayed…and that’s just the ones we know about.
And while Iran has to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium and its number of centrifuges, it doesn’t have to give them up entirely, again, these are just the ones we know about/Iran admits to. It also isn’t being forced to close its mountainside Fordo facility, just use it for research purposes.
Another concern is that a U.N. weapons embargo could lift in five years or sooner if certain criteria are met. U.S. officials had sought to maintain the weapons ban, worrying that an Iran newly flushed with post sanction oil revenue would funnel even more money and arms to it’s allies in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. However Russia and China supported Iran on this, as both stand to profit from arms exports to Tehran.
Will this impact global markets?
You betcha. Any easing of economic sanctions will allow hitherto limited Iranian oil to re-enter the market. This is good news for manufactures, logistics companies and nations struggling with inflation, but bad news for shale gas and fellow oil exporters, especially Russia which has taken advantage of Iranian sanctions to bite into traditional Iranian markets. The move will put added strain on Venezuela which is even more dependent on high oil prices than Russia.
What does Tel Aviv think?
Israel isn’t happy (are they ever?) as the deal leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure largely in place. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a “bad mistake of historic proportion.” President Barack Obama says he sees it differently: If a diplomatic agreement with Iran can’t be found, that puts the next U.S. and Israeli leaders in the position of having to contemplate military action to prevent Iran from building a bomb. However as I’ve discussed here, an attack on Iranian facilities would not only be very difficult, but also counter productive.
Can the US screw is all up?
As with all international agreements, the US Congress has 60 days to review the deal, then it gets complex. A vote of disapproval by itself won’t necessarily scupper the agreement but if Congress decides to impose new sanctions on Iran or prevent Obama from suspending existing ones, that would make it hard for the President to fulfill the American side of the deal. To do that, however, Senate and House Republican leaders would have to find enough support to override a presidential veto. Republicans might chose to do so out of spite, or just threaten to do so to extract concessions from the White House elsewhere.