Although opponents in the USA of the nuclear agreement recently signed by Iran and the P5+1 will undoubtedly continue to criticize and vilify it as a blatant betrayal of both the USA and Israel, it remains a highly significant development.
Technically, the agreement allows for the number of Iranian centrifuges to be cut back drastically so that the Fordow facility, although secure and protected from a military attack, may not concentrate on research and science rather than weapons. To this end, the Arak heavy water reactor is to be modified to prevent it from being used for nuclear weapons. Further, Iran’s nuclear program is to be closely monitored by the IAEA, partially to ensure its stockpile of enriched uranium is kept to a minimum.
According to supporters of the deal, it is a smart move. They say the deal is the best route to constrain or even reduce Iran’s nuclear ambitions and for promoting political change within the country. Although it is clear that the deal is an imperfect compromise, providing less than the ideal solutions sought by both sides, it does mean that Iran will have to comply with international oversight before it can recover any of its assets frozen by sanctions. Falsely, some critics have claimed that the agreement rewards Iran with a “signing bonus”.
In fact, Iran will be able to recover over time and with prolonged compliance, almost $150 billion of its own money. While it will immediately use some of those funds to expand and modernize its military capacity – buying modern fighter jets from Russia and China in order to bring its air force more up to date – President Hassan Rouhani also plans to improve the economy, which at the moment is ailing. For example, Iran will also buy passenger planes from the West.
The key political hope though is the deal will encourage Iran to open up more and allow its citizens to have greater freedom. Change is likely to be slow and gradual but millions of Iranians sense they may gain more space to effect improvements in their daily lives. The West will be hoping that at the very least the Iranian regime’s Human Rights record may improve and its participation in foreign affairs may begin to focus more on cooperation.
There are potential hindrances, nevertheless. Iran’s political establishment is intrinsically corrupt. In particular, the IRGC is certainly going to try and get its hands on the unfrozen funds. Moreover, Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC are highly unlikely to give up any of the political control they exert. President Rouhani will have to continue a pragmatic strategy that avoids any dramatic gestures towards change. Furthermore, war, revolution or external pressures could easily cause Iran to disintegrate or fall into chaos.
Therefore while the nuclear deal is not and cannot transform Iran, it is a step in the right direction.