The interim nuclear accord between Iran and the international community, announced on Sunday after tense negotiations in Geneva, is historic for two reasons. Taken to its logical conclusion in the coming months, the deal promises to end Iran’s prolonged nuclear confrontation with the world, strengthen the global non-proliferation regime and reduce the dangers of war in the Middle East. Second, emerging from secret talks between Washington and Tehran over the last many months, the deal lays the foundation for a long overdue rapprochement between America and Iran.
As it creates possibilities for new geopolitical equations in a very critical region, the nuclear agreement has already stirred a big backlash in the United States and the Middle East. Hardliners and ideologues in America and Iran will accuse their governments of giving away too many concessions. Some of the predictable hostility is rooted in the demonisation of each other over many decades. But a close look at the terms of what is being called the “first step” nuclear agreement suggests sensible give and take that would instil mutual confidence and facilitate talks for a final resolution of the nuclear dispute. For its part, Iran has agreed to freeze some of the sensitive activities of its nuclear programme and roll back others. Iran is now open to unprecedented international inspections to verify its commitments under the accord. The international community, in turn, has given modest relief from the massive sanctions regime that has been constructed in recent years against Iran. To be sure, the terms of the deal are reversible in practice. The deal, however, opens the door to a comprehensive settlement which would ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme remains peaceful, in return for an end to the international economic blockade against Tehran.
Time is of the essence for Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who is acutely aware that the present window of political opportunity at home to negotiate with the US will not last too long. President Barack Obama is under fire from Israel and the Gulf Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, who fear that a US-Iran détente will make them vulnerable to Tehran’s rising regional clout. Meanwhile, the US Congress threatens to undermine the deal by pushing for more sanctions against Iran. As Obama and Rouhani move forward in a political minefield, India has a major opportunity to raise its diplomatic profile in the region, where it has so much at stake. Delhi, which