On November 24 Iran signed a historic agreement with representatives of the P5 (the United States of America and four other permanent members of the United nations – the UK, China, France, Russia) and Germany in Geneva, agreeing to scale down its nuclear programme, for the first time in over ten years.
The agreement is for a six-month period, during which ways of further resolving the developed countries’ concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme will be considered. This agreement signals Iran’s acceptance of international constraints – specifically, on the enriching of uranium — which will reduce the possibility of nuclear weapons being produced by Iran. In return, the US and other allies will offer relief worth US $7 billion if Iran does not violate the terms over the next six months. In the past Iran suffered extensive sanctions imposed on it by many countries, including the US, affecting its economy.
Why is it a Historic Deal?
For years Iran has been suspected of enriching uranium. (Natural uranium has to be enriched in order to generate a nuclear reaction. This enrichment, or attainment of purity, is done by a repeat process of centrifuging). Iran’s facility at Arak uses plutonium, which is more toxic than uranium. In World War II a uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, while a plutonium bomb was unleashed on Nagasaki.
Ironically, when Iran began its nuclear quest in the 1950s it did not face any opposition from the US. On the contrary it enjoyed quite a lot of fund support from it. The Persian state’s then ruler, the Shah of Iran as he was known, was a close ally of the American nation. In 1979 the Islamic Revolution ended the monarchy in Iran, and ever since then relations between the US and Iran have been turbulent.
The US and its ally Israel became critical of Iran’s nuclear programme, which Iran maintained was for peaceful purposes and NOT to build a bomb, even though news of a uranium enrichment plant made headlines in 2002. For over a decade the UN Security Council has been calling for the closing down of such facilities, but Iran rebutted criticism claiming that it was not in violation of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) to which it was a signatory. The West was not convinced and imposed sanctions.
While the Iranian people suffered because of the sanctions, there were also other regional tensions such as fears that other Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia might want to look at nuclear empowerment.
Nuclear Non Proliferation and Iran
Iran is a signatory to the NPT, a treaty with the objective of curbing production of nuclear missiles and even nuclear technology. It came into effect in 1970, in an attempt to limit the arms race among countries. Over 190 countries have signed the NPT, although India, Pakistan and Israel never did so. While India and Pakistan have demonstrated their nuclear weapons capability Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal. None of the three suffered economic impositions by the West, as Iran did.
One reason for such a disparity is the poor equation between America and Iranian heads such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was the Iranian President from 2005 to 2013. However, with the change of guard in Tehran, and Hassan Rouhani becoming President, headway has been made. The Geneva pact, whereby Iran has agreed to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 per cent, to dilute the stock of 20 per cent enriched uranium and permit international monitoring for the next six months, is therefore a historic treaty since it will not only ensure that nuclear weapons are not developed, but will also free Iran from restrictions on its oil sales.
What the Deal Spells
Iran gets US$7 billion in relief funds. However, out of that around $4 billion is money already earned by Iran from oil sales, which was unavailable to it because of the economic sanctions. The deal also lifts the restriction on Iran’s trade in gold, pharmaceuticals and automobiles.
Iran will not enrich uranium beyond 5 per cent. Such uranium is used in power generation projects. It will stop developing more centrifuges. Iran has also agreed to dilute all uranium enriched to 20 per cent, which type is used in medical research. To make an atom bomb uranium has to be enriched to 90 per cent. Text books will tell you that in the process scale, it is harder to go from 1 per cent to 20 per cent than it is to get from 20 per cent to 90 per cent.
Iran will also allow inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The treaty mentions a ‘mutually defined enrichment programme’, which means Iran’s right to enrich uranium has not been taken away entirely.
However, all this is only for six months, during which time the ultimate target of nuclear non-proliferation has to be met by all the signatories.