Tehran may need to give up high-level nuclear enrichment to get a deal with the West that sees sanctions dropped
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was at the centre of attention this past week at the Davos World Economic Forum, as he tries to get steer his country out of diplomatic obstacles in the form of sanction and criticism.
It was nothing less than a charm offensive by a recently elected leader who came to power after promising he would boost ties with the West and get sanctions lifted in order to improve the livelihood of his people.
His foreign minister and oil minister were by his side at the meeting at the Swiss resort, which brought together 2,500 political and business leaders, as well as top celebrities bent on doing good for the world community.
A preliminary agreement was reached last November but nuclear negotiations with Iran are no walk in the park. There are so many things at play and everybody, it seems, has their own agenda and interest. Russia wants a major oil deal, according to reports, while European businessmen are hitting the ground to seek opportunities.
While the sanctions are the still in place, the so-called relaxation phase that kicked in after the November signing is worth about US$7 billion, according to the Obama administration.
There are people in Washington who are fear that if this momentum continues, it may render the sanctions now in place meaningless. They point to the fact that UN investigation into Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons is not going as it should. So, they are afraid that Iran will get these benefits without having to making meaningful effort to reduce its nuclear infrastructure.
Because of this concern, 75 US lawmakers are looking to sponsor a bill that would push through new sanctions if Iran reneges on its deal. They called it a “diplomatic insurance policy”. For them, this makes a lot of sense because it was tough sanctions by Congress in 2010 that helped push Iran towards the negotiating table.
Theoretically, President Obama should be given a freer hand to push through diplomacy. It has been only six months and already Congress is making noises and being assertive. No one knows if it will succeed or fail, but they should at least give diplomacy a chance. If results are not forthcoming, Congress should respond then.
But to play up the benefits that Iran is set to rake in during this relaxation period could prove to be disastrous.
Iran needs to understand that there are a lot of people out there, especially the US lawmakers, who don’t trust Tehran, and for good reasons. Moreover, many countries in the Middle East are not at all comfortable with Iran’s involvement in the ongoing conflicts in Lebanon and Syria. They see Iran as trying to dominate the entire region and would not object to initiatives by the West to curb Tehran’s power, which makes many people nervous.
But at the same time, the world needs to understand that Rouhani can only go so far. Just a small group of close-knit mulla, religious clerics, decides how big of a leash will be given to give the country’s president.
For the time being, it’s about lifting sanctions so Iran can cash in on its natural resources. But the aging mullah should know that they can’t have the cake and eat it too. Something has to give and that means Iran will have to seriously think about stopping high-level enrichment of uranium, reduce its nuclear research, and perhaps shut down some of its facilities.