‘Watershed moment’ for peace as Iran and the west forge nuclear deal

Iran has agreed to temporarily suspend its nuclear programme in exchange for the relaxation of sanctions, which could boost its stagnant economy by $7bn

Iran has agreed to suspend much of its nuclear programme for a period of six months, in a move that negotiators in Geneva said would pave the way for a permanent solution to the country’s nuclear crisis.

The breakthrough, which dramatically reduces the risk of military conflict between the US and Iran, was met with jubilation from peace activists and guarded optimism from disarmament experts and regional analysts.

“At this moment in world politics, at least, the military option has been taken off the table,” said Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, director of the Centre for Iranian Studies at The School of Oriental and African Studies. “This is a good day for those of us who believe in dialogue and diplomacy in international affairs,” he told Positive News.

The Geneva talks, brokered by one-time Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) activist Lady Catherine Ashton, will see the west relax certain sanctions for six months, providing a $7bn boost to the stagnant Iranian economy. In exchange, Iran has pledged to suspend its uranium enrichment programmes for the same period, to dilute its existing stockpile of enriched uranium, and to grant International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to key nuclear sites.

The short-term deal between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, the UK and Germany, is designed to give negotiators time to hammer out a permanent solution. It makes it effectively impossible for Iran to work covertly towards developing a nuclear bomb while talks are in progress, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington DC.

“It’s the first and most comprehensive pause in Iran’s nuclear programme in some seven years,” Kimball said.

“This is a good day for those of us who believe in dialogue and diplomacy in international affairs”

That pause is being credited as the result of both the Obama administration’s determination to resolve the crisis through diplomatic rather than military means, and the pragmatic approach to foreign affairs taken by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani since taking over from his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.

Rouhani hasn’t yet delivered the human rights reforms that many in the country hoped for when he won the election; but the nuclear breakthrough, and the thawing of relations with the US, might change that, according to Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Iran’s religious rulers have for decades used the threat of American attack to block efforts to improve freedom of speech, and to justify locking up dissidents and reformers, Ghaemi said. Many Iranians hope the current deal will take that off the table, and create fresh momentum for political and social reforms.

“The mood is very optimistic,” Ghaemi told Positive News. “It’s definitely a watershed moment.”

Still, plenty of obstacles remain to be surmounted. Negotiating a final deal will mean tackling some thorny issues sidestepped by the current deal – including the crucial question of whether, subject to proper IAEA monitoring, Iran will be allowed to maintain a peacetime uranium enrichment programme.

While the talks continue, hardliners in Iran are expected to do their best to undermine Rouhani’s administration. Israel is also pushing back against the deal, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “historic mistake.” In the US congress, too, opponents to Obama’s approach are already hatching plans to derail the talks by imposing further sanctions.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Ghaemi said. “There’s a very difficult road ahead.”

For now, though, peace and disarmament activists are cheering a long-awaited breakthrough. Their hope is that the Geneva summit will yield not only a lasting solution to the Iranian crisis, but also a model for future talks with other nuclear or near-nuclear states, perhaps including North Korea.

“If a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis can be achieved, that will have far-reaching, long-lasting effects on the campaign to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons,” Kimball said.