The Iran-West interim nuclear deal reached in November last year has moved another step forward with negotiators meeting in Geneva yesterday agreeing on how to implement that agreement. According to the agreement reached yesterday, Tehran will start eliminating its stockpile of highly enriched uranium in eight days’ time – on January 20. The importance of this latest development was evident in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s words when he said: “As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear programme will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s programme.”
There is plenty of skepticism about the future of the interim deal, with some critics saying that Iran will never abandon its nuclear programme. But giving space even for that criticism, none can dispute the progress that has been achieved so far. President Barack Obama too described the latest agreement as a significant step forward. It is also worth noting that the breakthrough comes at a critical moment for the deal, with hardliners in both Iran and the US piling up pressure on their governments to get tough with the other side.
Now that the deal is moving forward, officials in Tehran and Washington must refrain from precipitating a situation that will either slow down it progress or scuttle it. Obama has already renewed his plea for Congress not to introduce a range of new sanctions against Iran, which he said would risk “derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully”. The Congress is likely to listen, because introducing new sanctions will seriously undermine the developments made so far.
Even as the talks move forward, the West has a duty to address the concerns of the Gulf countries which are seriously worried about the nuclear ambitions of Tehran. The dismantling of the nuclear programme must be complete and fool-proof. It’s unfortunate that the GCC is no party to the talks, though this region faces serious risks from the nuclear programme. The Obama administration and the Rouhani government will face severe turbulence in the coming days over the implementation of the nuclear deal. The opposition from the conservatives in both countries is severe and is growing. For example, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used fiery language to criticise the approach of the US, which he called the ‘Great Satan’. When Kerry tried to sell the plan to Congress last month, he met a wall of opposition from both parties, who appeared almost entirely unified against the deal. That opposition still remains though the government has been given freedom to move forward•