Iran no longer untouchable

At last, they have a deal. But what sort of a deal? A historic achievement, as its signatories would have you believe or a historic mistake as Israel, Saudi Arabia and quite a few other skeptics have rushed to pan the Iranian deal with the world powers in Vienna on Tuesday? Unless you are a soothsayer, you would keep your fingers crossed and hope that in the long run the optimists turn out to be right. For, oil- and gas-rich Iran devoting an unduly disproportionate energy even at the pain of crippling sanctions to harnessing nuclear power did, by itself, arouse suspicion about its real intentions. Now, future planning for the time when its oil and gas reserves would be fully depleted is a mere hogwash, especially when you know that sort of future planning has never been the strong suit of Iran or other oil-rich nations in the entire West Asian region. Only purblind optimists, determined to give Iran the benefit of the doubt, would believe that it was not being up to any mischief. As a major Shia power in the region arrayed against Saudi Arabia, the Sunni hegemon in the  Islamic  world, Iran had reason to arm itself with the ultimate weapon, especially when the Saudis had billeted themselves against any eventuality by buying into Pakistan’s `Islamic bomb.’  Iran’s isolation and a long-running feud with the US, which hitherto was the strongest backer of the Saudis in the West Asian affairs, lent Iran further reason to go nuclear. Given that diplomacy is the art of the possible, the threat of a nuclear Iran saw an open convergence of interests between the Saudis and Israelis. Both have now called the Iranian nuclear deal a historic blunder. On the other hand, the incumbent presidents in Washington and Teheran are being toasted for having achieved the near-impossible by inking an agreement which envisages a quietus to the Iranian nuclear programme for at least a decade under the watchful eyes of the international inspectors. And in return, Iran gets the crippling sanctions lifted. Of course, it is possible to exaggerate the effects of sanctions just as it is possible to invest too much faith in the inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. For, despite the sanctions, Iran was far from being broken though its people had to put up with economic hardships. It is notable that for over three years despite the sanctions, Iranian diplomats negotiated hard, steadfastly safeguarding their interest without yielding an inch. As for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, these cannot still guarantee a complete halt to a surreptitious progress on the making of the bomb, especially because inspectors cannot just walk into Iranian nuclear facilities without prior notice. As the deal-makers conceded, the biggest problem that they had to confront was the complete lack of trust on either side. That would explain the 100-page-plus final draft agreement. Once the agreement is ratified, Iran could claim its place on the West Asian high table, something the Saudis would resent highly but due to the diminishing Western reliance on their oil, they would not be able to do much about it. Iran could henceforth be made to calm things around in West Asia, especially when it itself is a player in some of the trouble spots in the region. In Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, etc, it could exercise a positive influence. Iran is also against the ISIS.

Of course, in the immediate course, the deal could ensure that crude prices ease further thanks to additional supply of over seven lakh barrels of Iranian oil a day that is set to flow into the global markets once the sanctions are lifted. Crude prices could fall below the $ 50-barrel mark. That should benefit India immensely. India could also expect to gain from the export of services and projects to a sanctions-free Iran. Also, a more responsive Iran could underpin India’s regional strategic security plan for Afghanistan and other Central Asian republics. Traditionally, India and Iran have had good relations. Following the lifting of the sanctions, a greater economic, cultural and strategic cooperation is on the cards. Admittedly, the nuclear deal still has to clear a few hurdles in Washington and Teheran. Both President Obama and President Rouhani have strong domestic critics, but barring an unforeseen development, the deal is set to pass muster in both the capitals. For a decade, Iran will desist from going nuclear. What happens after that will depend on the prevailing conditions. But the world cannot ignore the basic fact that the nuclear apartheid is no longer possible given the easy availability of technology. For a durable peace, either it is total nuclear disarmament or blanket nuclearisation of the world, the latter, though being a frightening prospect, seems inevitable in the long run unless better sense prevails all around.

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