Saving the deal

December 21, 2013 - 5:54:24 am

Despite doubts about Iran’s seriousness in pursuing a final nuclear deal, Tehran is unlikely to do anything that will wipe out the progress made so far.


The preliminary agreement on Iran nuclear programme signed by the West and Tehran, which was widely hailed as a landmark deal, is facing some strains. Iranian officials walked out of talks with the West last Friday due to an announcement by the US Treasury of actions against companies that have been violating US sanctions against Iran. The talks from which Iran walked out were not the negotiations about a final accord on the nuclear programme, which have not begun seriously, but on the implementation of the primary agreement reached in Geneva in November.

The Iranian action has created some skepticism about the seriousness of its leadership to abide by the terms of the agreement, especially in US. Suddenly, previous statements of US leaders were remembered. For example, President Obama had said earlier this month that he assessed the chance of reaching a final agreement on the Iran nuclear programmed as no more than 50-50. That’s indeed a lot of optimism, considering the acrimony in US-Iran relations in the past few decades, but the walking out made the negative fifty more plausible. And Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress that he came away from the preliminary negotiations with Tehran “with serious questions about whether or not they are ready and willing to make some of the choices that have to be made.”

Despite the hardening of Iranian stance and the US reaction, it’s unlikely that Iran will do anything that will upend the progress made so far. First of all, Iran has begun to taste the fruits of a deal and non-confrontational approach, and secondly, despite the presence of hardliners, the government of Rowhani seems to be committed to a negotiated solution to the nuclear programme. The Tehran action could also be symbolic and to assuage public anger.  It must be noted that there is nothing surprising about the US action against companies that have been allegedly violating US sanctions against Iran. Though the United States and its allies agreed to some sanctions relief in Geneva as part of the first deal, they made it clear that they would continue to enforce measures constraining Iranian trade and banking.

The US too seems to be in no mood to torpedo a hard-won deal. President Obama said yesterday now is not the time to impose new sanctions on Tehran while it is set to negotiate over a long-term nuclear deal with world powers. “There is no need for new sanctions legislation, not yet,” Obama told a White House news conference a day after a group of US senators introduced a bill to impose new punitive measures on Iran if it breaks an interim nuclear deal reached last month in Geneva.

Both Washington and Tehran must realize that going back to their previous hostilities will have huge consequences•

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