by Tahir Mustafa (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 10, Muharram, 1435)
After three rounds of intense negotiations in Geneva, Iran and the P5+1 countries signed an interim deal in the early hours of November 24 relating to Iran’s nuclear program. The deal to last for six months calls for Iran to limit its nuclear activity in return for some relief from sanctions.
After three rounds of intense negotiations in Geneva, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany finally agreed on an interim deal in the early hours of November 23. A similar deal was sabotaged in the last round of talks (November 7–9) because the French, at the behest of the Zionists, put a spanner in the final draft that had been agreed between Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union (EU) Foreign Policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
Although it is an interim deal lasting a mere six months, both sides hailed it as a “breakthrough” and “historic.” Given so much mistrust, especially between Iran and the US, any agreement would of necessity be considered historic. Interestingly, both sides gave their own interpretation as soon as the deal was agreed.
For Iran, enrichment of uranium was one point on which it was not going to compromise and declared it a “red line.” It is Iran’s right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) although Kerry claimed it was not an automatic right. Foreign Minister Zarif worked a way around it. He said this need not be mentioned in the interim agreement since it is already contained in the NPT.
Following agreement in the early hours of November 23 in Geneva (around 4am Geneva time), Foreign Minister Zarif of Iran held a press conference to announce that a deal had been agreed and that Iran’s right to enrichment has been recognized although it was not specifically mentioned in the draft. At the same time, the agreement says Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 5%. Thus, if Iran can enrich up to 5%, then its right has been recognized. Soon thereafter, Kerry held his own press conference where he rambled on about the interim deal not containing any mention of uranium enrichment. At the same time, he talked about the limitations placed on Iran’s nuclear program.
Why was Kerry so keen to talk up the restrictions imposed on Iran? He actually had two audiences in mind: the rightwing lobby in the US and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who has gone hoarse screaming against any deal with Iran. He insisted it is not a “historic deal;” for him, it is a “historic mistake.” Netanyahu has found few takers even inside the Zionist State, for his outlandish assertions. Where he can create mischief is to unleash the Zionist attack dogs in the US Congress as well as in the media. His aim is to make life very uncomfortable for President Barack Obama who had signalled that he would not be bullied by Israeli threats. It will be interesting to see how long will Obama withstand such Zionist blackmail.
When Obama held his own press conference from the White House late on Saturday night, he said, “Iran, like any other nation, has the right to peaceful nuclear energy.” He called the deal a “first step” in a very difficult process. There was something else Obama had done that caused immense angst in Tel Aviv because he kept the Zionists in the dark. Obama had opened a secret channel to Iran with Nicholas Burns, the second highest official in the State Department, acting as the point man. These contacts had been going on for several weeks leading to the Geneva talks and helped pave the way for an interim deal.
Both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington-based website Al-Monitor reported such contacts after the Geneva interim accord was signed although Iran’s foreign ministry denied any such contacts. It has been reported that Nicholas Burns, the number two man in the State Department, was tasked by Obama to conduct these secret discussions. What is interesting is that the Zionists were kept completely out of the loop and they found out about it at the same time as the rest of the world did.
Countries conduct back channel communications for a variety of reasons: to test the other party’s sincerity, plausible deniability if the information is leaked out for some reason, and more particularly to keep opponents at bay from sabotaging the prospect of progress. The US had tried to approach Iran in the past as well. A more recent example was President Barack Obama’s September 27 phone call to Iranian President Hassan Rohani as the latter was on his way to the airport for his return journey home. Both US officials and the media lied by claiming Dr. Rohani had initiated the phone call. Later it was admitted that Obama was the one who had made the phone call.
In fact, American officials had desperately tried to arrange a “chance encounter” between Dr. Rohani and Obama when both presidents were at the UN. American officials had hoped that during the UN luncheon, Obama would get an opportunity to meet Iran’s president. Dr. Rohani skipped lunch, frustrating this American plan. That did not deter Obama from initiating the phone call.
The question, however, is, why is Obama so keen to establish contact with Iran? With the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh in the minds of most Americans, and the US having no more stomach for external adventures, there appears to be a shift in American thinking. Even as the US pivots its focus to Asia, it is at the same time moving away from the core of the Muslim East and its traditional regional allies. The US needs all the help it can get in Afghanistan and even if it does not get much help, it cannot afford to create more problems for itself. For the US to withdraw from Afghanistan with some degree of safety, it needs Iran’s help. Whether such help will be forthcoming has yet to be determined.
Political pundits have discussed not only the precise terms agreed at Geneva but the other possibilities it opens up between long-time antagonists Iran and the US. If the momentum built over the last six weeks in Geneva is maintained in subsequent negotiations, the deal is bound to usher a “tectonic shift” in Muslim East alliances. This has already been mentioned by several commentators, among them Ian Black of The Guardian as well as Marwan Bishara of al-Jazeera (both on November 24). Both have alluded to the impact this would have on two of America’s staunchest allies — Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Zionist-Wahhabi alliance has not only come out into the open but the two have also unleashed their lobbies especially in the US Congress to sabotage the interim deal. There is no guarantee that the deal would succeed although at the present time, Obama does not have to seek congressional approval for it. Iran’s foreign minister has also warned that there is no guarantee that the deal would succeed if the lobbies are determined to sabotage it. Obama would have to prove whether he is serious and sincere in living up to his side of the bargain.
With major sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors, especially those imposed by the US still in place, the question is, what has Iran really obtained from the deal? Beyond the quantitative aspects of the deal — Iran would get a paltry sum of money (around $7 billion) from its assets illegally frozen by the US — the fact is a crack has been made in the US-Western imposed sanctions. True, the sanctions regime did not affect Iran’s economy as much as has been talked about, the fact is that Iran is entitled to its revenues from oil sales that are frozen in the banks of several countries including India, Japan and South Africa. This amounts to more than $50 billion. In addition, the US has also frozen $40 billion of Iranian assets since 1979 (in current terms, this would be around $400 billion). Withholding of such vast sums has obviously affected Iran’s development.
The six-month period for the interim deal would test each side’s sincerity in arriving at a comprehensive solution. Iran has agreed to intrusive monitoring of its nuclear facilities by the IAEA in return for complete lifting of all sanctions as the ultimate endgame. Whether this would materialize or the West will continue to play its duplicitous games will become clear in six months or less. For instance, the Europeans are talking in terms of lifting their sanctions sometime in January. Why such a long delay?
In 2003, Iran had agreed to freeze all enrichment in return for the West lifting its illegally imposed sanctions. It needs recalling that Dr. Rohani was then Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. What did the West do? It played for time and refused to lift any sanctions. Instead, the US branded Iran as part of the “axis of evil.” True, at that time, Iran was dealing with the Western trio — Britain, France and Germany — but the fact is that they are close US allies.
Again, in April 2010, Turkey and Brazil negotiated a deal with Iran under which Tehran agreed to ship its stock of 20% enriched uranium out of the country in return for medical isotopes supplied to it simultaneously. Obama sabotaged the deal even though he had agreed to it in advance in writing. Would Obama behave any differently this time?
Perhaps, given the dire circumstances the US finds itself in, it may be different this time but it would be wrong to assume that Americans would conduct themselves in good faith. Further, the US is keenly aware that China, Russia and Iran are getting closer together and if they form any kind of an economic, political or military alliance, this would affect US policies immensely. Is the US trying to position itself to prevent any such alliance from emerging?
On the issue of sanctions, Obama can waive if he so chooses, for a period of 120 days through an executive order, the oil and banking sanctions imposed on Iran. He has the authority to do so and can continue to renew the waiver for as many 120-day periods as he wishes provided he can certify that this is in the US interest. If Obama is serious, he can override Congress without having to grovel before it.
The next six months will show whether the US will live up to its promises and commitments. It would be prudent for Iran not to put too much faith in American pronouncements. Caution would be a much more realistic approach.
Terms of the Geneva Agreement
Islamic Republic of Iran:
1. halts enrichment above 5%;
2. dismantles technical connections required to enrich above 5%;
3. does not install additional centrifuges of any type (Iran currently has 19,000);
4. does not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium;
5. does not construct new enrichment facilities;
6. does not commission or fuel Arak reactor (this was used as a sticking point by the French foreign minister in the last round of talks to derail an agreement on November 9);
7. provides daily access to IAEA inspectors at Natanz and Fordow nuclear sites;
8. provides IAEA access to centrifuge assembly, production and storage facilities; and
9. provides design information for Arak reactor.
1. do not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months (the interim deal is for six months);
2. allow purchases of Iranian oil at their current levels (giving Iran access to a partial sum of $4.2 billion in revenues out of a potential sale of $25 billion);
3. suspend sanctions on gold and precious metals, cars and petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran another $1.5 billion;
4. license safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines; and
5. allow $400m in governmental tuition assistance to be transferred from restricted funds directly to educational institutions in third countries to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students.