What Republicans and many others in the West should take into account when dealing with the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program
The Iranian nuclear program was first initiated under the Shah in the ‘70s. At that time the USA and many other western countries regarded Iran as their ally and “policeman” in the region, Shiism was still characterized by a certain political quietism, Khomeini was nothing more than a voice of dissent coming from Paris and the prospect of a nuclear Iran was not a threat at all.
After 1979, when Khomeini ceased being a voice of dissent and became the voice of Iran, when the line separating religion and politics became blurred, when the country became an Islamic Republic guided by an often radical clergy and the Shah was nothing more than a sick monarch in exile, the prospect of a nuclear Iran began to be perceived in the West as a real threat. Set aside until the ‘80s, in 1995 the nuclear program was seriously retrieved and in the early 2000 became one of the main issues on which to base the relationship West-Iran.
The mistakes made by Bush’s blindness (above all his resolute refusal of the “Guldimann Grand Bargain” that contributed to Katami’s decline and paved the way to Ahmadinejad’s radical stance) and ignorance regarding Iran (that was inserted in an axis of evil even though in 2003-2004 it had stopped its nuclear activity to facilitate negotiations with the EU Three, then collapsed mainly due to the USA intransigence) made the issue grow tougher. It is with Obama that the US approach to Iran undergoes a necessary and valuable re-orientation: Iran is acknowledged to be too important in the Middle Eastern dynamics to be an enemy, and the possibilities to build a new relationship are at this point recognized to be highly dependent on the solution of the nuclear issue, on which discussions seriously begin in December 2013.
Deadline after deadline, the only thing we are now sure of is that for both sides the nuclear deal is something too important to be let go. Looking at the Iran’s international isolation and the dissatisfaction of the Iranian people after years of sanctions, we can easily understand the importance the nuclear deal has for the country’s people , but it is as much important for us too.
On the political level, reaching a deal would mean that Iran is subject to international controls, that international personnel can have access to Iran’s nuclear sites and keep under control the process of uranium enrichment to make sure it doesn’t reach the level which marks the border between civilian and military use. Until now such controls have not been possible and without a deal they would remain impossible, thus preventing us from knowing what is really going on at Iran’s nuclear sites.
No deal doesn’t in any way mean no nuclear Iran; it only means no controls.
Iran has by now reached a point of technological development thanks to which it has acquired the capability to become the next nuclear power. At this point the only thing we can do is trying to keep that capability under control; as for trying to cancel it, it is just too late.
Those who fear that allowing Iran to go on with its nuclear program will introduce a further element of destabilization in the Middle East, prompting Sunni states like Saudi Arabia to start a nuclear program too, should wonder what will happen without deal: a nuclear power under no control, Sunni states and Israel feeling threatened, military actions and proxy wars therefore much more likely, further destabilization in a region already touched by chaos.
Those who state that protracted sanctions will eventually bind Iran and make collapse its nuclear program, thus making the deal not necessary, fail to understand the reality of the Islamic Republic. In the limbo between authoritarianism and democracy the Iran’s government is not accountable in the same way in which democratic governments are; and past experiences show that when you are not dealing with a full democracy, then sanctions won’t work. They will just be manipulated by those in power, until reaching the paradox of becoming a weapon against those who enforced them (this is for instance what happened with Saddam after the Second Gulf War). Looking at Iran, whose government cannot be compared to fully authoritarian ones either, we can see that here people overtly express their resentment and the desire for sanctions to be lifted. On the other hand though, these complaints don’t reach the deaf ears of those in power, as sanctions are benefitting those who are close to the regime (in particular the Sepah), who are taking advantage of soaring prices. And this is why going on with further sanctions won’t be the answer to the nuclear issue: those hit by sanctions are not those who take decisions, and those who benefit from sanctions have power enough not to step back.
On the economic level, a deal would mean a gradual but definitive lifting of sanctions.
In this way Iran would be back on the world stage, retrieve its economic growth, weave new financial and economic relationships, go back exporting oil and gas, attract new investments and invest in its turn . And this would have positive repercussions not only the country’s economy but on the broader regional one, that can’t but benefit from the re-emergence of what can be a leading economy in the Middle East, thanks to its natural resources and labor force, its traditional role of bridge between middle east and South Asia and an internal political stability that in the region is unfortunately not the rule. The possibilities that an Iran integrated in the global economic system can unfold for the region have been for instance acknowledged also by the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government), that has declared it would benefit from acquiring Iranian gas and oil.
The positive implications, on both regional security and regional economy, that a nuclear deal between P5+1 and Iran would have, are thus the keys to explain why diplomats from all over the world are investing so much in negotiations and why can’t they just be let turn out into nothing.