Following the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in January 2016, involving Iran and the P5+1 (the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany, on behalf of the international community), there has been an increased potential for a new era of Iranian cooperation when it comes to security issues of international concern. The JCPOA had ameliorated international security concerns surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme, and set a precedent for reciprocal dialogue between the Middle Eastern state and the international community, at least on paper. That being said, there are still points of concern across the region as to whether the JCPOA is a positive development, vis-à-vis removing the nuclear threat of Iran, in principle, and what this means in practice across the Middle East.
Firstly, regional concerns emanate from the very nature of the JCPOA, i.e. it’s finite remit. Specifically, the agreement details that:
– Iran must limit it’s estimated 20,000 centrifuges (as of July 2015) to 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges in Natanz over the next 10 years.
– The country must also reduce it’s uranium stockpile by 98% to 300kg (660lbs) over the next 15 years, limit the level of enrichment to 3.67%, and the Natanz facility is to be used for research and development.
– The Fordo facility is prohibited from nuclear enrichment for the next 15 years (and is to be converted to a technology centre with the existing centrifuges to be used for alternate purposes).
– The Arak plant is not permitted to build additional heavy-water reactors or accumulate any excess heavy water for the next 15 years.
– Additionally, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is mandated with further safeguards, including: IAEA inspectors are allowed access to sites deemed suspicious and Iran has 24 days to comply with IAEA requests for the next 15 years.
The JCPOA also articulates that should Iran fail to honour it’s commitments to the agreement then the sanctions imposed on the country prior to January 2015 would be ‘snapped back’ into place for 10 years (and extendable for another 5).
Resultantly, the finite nature of the JCPOA has created a ‘new realm of security’, where the nuclear capabilities of a state have been effectively put on pause for the next 10-15 years. As a result, this has inevitably caused concern for the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) regime’s regional rivals. Consequently, the rhetoric of limiting Iran’s intentions (i.e. the rhetoric put forward since the IRI came to power following the 1979 Revolution), has continued to hold it’s place in the regional centres of power.
On the one hand, the JCPOA has condoned or legitimised Iran’s clandestine behaviour over it’s nuclear programme over the past fifteen years or so. Further, to put this in a regional context, the agreement has brought Iran ‘in from the cold’ when it comes to the international community (to a certain extent). Those who see the world in zero-sum or realist terms, see this as a negative development.
On the plus side, the JCPOA has provided a new foundation and framework for dialogue and cooperation. Indeed, as I argued in a previous post titled Iran and DAISH: A Cause to Agree on, issues of mutual concern, e.g. the threat of DAISH, have already resulted in uneasy collusion between Iran and it’s most prominent regional rival, Saudi Arabia. As a result, the positive-sum or liberally inclined actors and observes see the agreement as a positive development. Indeed, the precedent set over such cooperation, is promising for the post-JCPOA era.
That being said, both views will adjust, develop and reform as different internal and external pressures emerge and re-emerge in the short and medium-term, as I noted in an earlier post titled Winners and Losers of a Post-Sanctions Iran.
Image: Satellite Image of the Middle East Region, obtained from NASA and/or the US Geological Survey. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.