Mastering the dance: What Iran gained from its nuclear deal

Abd-Al-Qader Sawari , Monday 23 Dec 2013

Despite significant Iranian concessions made, and few incentives offered in return, in the recent nuclear deal signed in Geneva, Iranian diplomacy continues its classic pattern of decisive advances and limited reversals

One Persian comic on Facebook put up an image in which US Secretary of State John Kerry enthusiastically hugged Catherine Ashton, EU foreign-policy chief, after Iran reached a nuclear deal with six world powers. A sarcastic caption was written on the image: "Kerry embracing Ashton heartily as if the USA was under stifling embargo and this deal extracted it from it!"

I won't speak about the happiness oozing from the face of Kerry in this image and whether this happiness was in the hearts of American politicians or on Kerry's face alone. I just want to reverse the image, imagining Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign affairs ,inister, hugging Ashton with such enthusiasm. Perhaps he would have done so except for restrictions set by Islam on his diplomatic behaviour. The man was so overwhelmed with joy that he could not wait more than a minute after striking the deal to tweet on his account, announcing the good news to the Iranian nation that an historic victory had been reached which wouldn't have materialised except for their sacrifices.

What about this victory? Let's look at the terms of this deal, which appeared on different internet sites shortly afterwards. The deal demands Iran exert much effort: it will suspend enriching uranium at 20 percent, suspend the installation of new centrifuges, suspend two thirds of the centrifuges at the Tehran and Natanz reactors and accept that all its power stations and reactors be monitored daily, or at least the possibility and right of daily inspections.

Some Iranian newspapers spoke negatively about the deal, and would be been more forthwith had Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ali Khamenei not gave it his blessing. In exchange for all its concessions, Iran will receive approximately $7 billion in limited sanctions relief.

With all these ironies regarding what's given and what's taken, the pathos seems more acute if we note the joy that swept the Iranian public opinion, from activists to officials, after the deal.

For the street, going through social network sites will suffice to witness the utter elation. As for politicians, Khamenei blessed the deal and expressed gratitude to the Iranian negotiating team. Then came Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to complete the edifice, holding a news conference in a hurry at 8:00am to disseminate in full delight the good news.

The excitement in the street belies hope of a breakthrough in an economic crisis that encumbered the people (of course, this optimistic tone quickly died away, after the details of the incentives contained in the deal sunk in). There was also confusion and astonishment among the jubilant, as if many were asking themselves why they are so delighted.

But even if we understand the exhilaration among the crowds, what about the politicians? How can we interpret the wide gap between jubilance on one hand and the severe Iranian concessions on the other? Do Iranian politicians consider the $7 billion enough to satiate their hunger? Oil royalties used to yield around $100 billion annually and the $7 billion constitutes a mere seven percent of this sum. This doesn't provide us with convincing evidence for Iranian politicians to be overwhelmed with joy.

Moreover, what the deal mentions in the context of lifting the embargo is conditional to a number of terms and sustains the level of Iran's current experiments and doesn't allow it to exceed it, which means that it is standing at point zero in this respect.

Besides, we can describe Iran as an ideological state. Such states don't make economic analysis a top priority. Rather, they place more emphasis on utopian considerations, with economy relegated to subsequent ranks. Thus, we have to search for reasons for Iranian politicians' overwhelming joy towards this deal, emanating from other considerations unrelated to pure economic incentives.  

First and foremost, this deal bears an admission that Iran entered the nuclear club. Even if Kerry insists otherwise. For the introduction of the deal states that this deal should lead to an Iranian nuclear programme and within its details concedes Iran's right to enrich uranium. This was what the international community, headed by the United States, was refusing before. Let's remind ourselves that the US refused what was called the Tehran Statement in 2010, which was suggested by Brazil and Turkey, although its conditions were pointing out the necessity that Tehran suspend its enrichment process completely. We also have to remember that the refusal was made during the time of the Democrats, not the Republicans, and even during Obama's administration, thus driving Iran to step up enrichment up to 20 percent.

The new deal states twice the right of Iran to enrich uranium and also does not request from Iran to suspend uranium enrichment entirely. It rather focuses on decreasing the enrichment process regarding capacity and depth.

The end result is that Iran has made a step forward in this game. The deal establishes that point zero in the next negotiations is specific, rather than completely stopping the uranium enrichment process. Negotiations won't be held to cast doubt on this constant. Negotiations may not add to much but they at least will not blow up what was agreed upon previously. This is definitely a gain for the Iranian side, for it has driven the start of the race a number of steps forward.

This point, I see, is the most important of the Iranian gains — that is, the Iranians have shown to the world that it is possible to reach an agreement with their regime. After all those years of tough, unfruitful negotiations, the world thought that reaching a safe haven of agreement with Iran was unattainable and that this sea has no shores. Thus, a conception prevailed among observers, that Iran does not aim to reach an agreement and it is using negotiations for the sake of negotiations, which we can call the Iranian way of negotiations.

This conception began to tarnish the reputation of Iranian negotiators and drive many parties away from entering the game of talks, whatever its topic, with Iran. As for today, after reaching this deal — even if it is fragile — this conception about Iran has faded, especially if we put into consideration that the main party in this deal is the United States, the nemesis of the Iranian Revolution and the "Great Satan" in Iranian political literature. Then and only then it seemed that reaching a deal was possible.

It appears that the Iranians have mastered the dance. They take two steps forward, then they take a step backwards. The result is one step forward.

* The author is an Iranian researcher and writer with Sharq, one of the reformist newspapers in Iran.

Short link: