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#4194, 26 November 2013
Iran Nuclear Deal: End of Cold War against the West?
Ayesha Khanyari
Research Intern, IReS, IPCS
Email: ayesha.khanyari@gmail.com

After months of negotiations, the P5+1 and Iran have managed to reach an understanding on Tehran’s nuclear programme that gives each side a small portion of their demands. In exchange of temporary relaxation of sanctions, the P5+1 reached an interim agreement to freeze parts of Iran’s nuclear programme.

After years of estrangement between the US and Iran, what pushed Iran to clinch a deal which dragged on due to lack of consensus? Does the deal signal the end of the Cold War between Iran and the West or just a temporary thaw? Does the deal indicate a fundamental restructuring of Iran?

The Iranian government cannot be indifferent to the harsh consequences of the most crippling sanctions in history. Such back-breaking sanctions have affected Iran’s economy with high rates of unemployment, lower levels of productivity and rising poverty. The relief from sanctions is overwhelmingly welcomed by the leaders of the Islamic Republic.

Given the state of its economy, Iran cannot afford going to war with the US. It would rather join hands with the adversary than go against it. Its economy cannot absorb the cost of going to war with a super power. It would be a nightmare scenario for both Iran and the US.

Despite the long festering stand-off between the US and Iran, some issues have found common ground. The US and Iran both face a common threat - the Salafi Sunni extremist al Qaeda, which abhors Shiite Iran as much as the US. However the hostility between Iran and the US has prevented them from coming together against this threat. With the revised relations between the two, this common enemy can be dealt with.

Hence the situation at home was such that it didn’t leave Iran with much choice than to comply with the great powers and agree to give up a little in return of greater benefits.

The Other Side of Iran
Iranian intentions might not be all that benign. The Obama administration believes that Iran can play a positive role in addressing the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria. For the US, it is important to engage Iran for finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict. However there is no indication that Iran will back off from its support to President Bashir al Assad and not ensure his survival. On the contrary, all indicators suggest Iran’s support for the inhuman attacks by Assad on his own people will continue to flow unabated.

The Israelis are quite vocal about their scepticism of US-Iran rapprochement. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu argues that the slowdown is occurring simply because Iran already has all the capacity needed to produce a bomb. The Israelis fear a strategic realignment that will help Iran rise as a regional hegemon in the near future with US at its side. To claim its position in the region, it needs the US to keep the hardliners at a distance.

Iran’s vested interest in the deal is apparent. Once the threat of sanctions is over, Iran can flex its muscles in the region without the US pointing its gun at it. An unrestrained Iran is what the West Asian countries fear.

Is Iran Truly Changing?
The primary concern for the Iranians was to survive the economic malaise and thwart war. Political freedom and human rights became lesser priorities for them. Once a full blown deal is in place, possibly within a few months, will Iran’s focus shift towards issues of democracy, human rights and freedom? The United Nations' special rapporteur on human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheedi’s report read “….ethnic, linguistic and other minorities continue to see their rights violated in law and in practice.” He also adds, ‘prisoners of conscience’; hundreds more remain in detention, many of them with ‘inadequate provision of food, water and medical treatment’. His report highlights the fact that a moderate Rouhani is not looking forward to paint Iran along democratic lines as the different sections of minority groups are still targeted repression and violation of their rights.

Iran has hence realised that to reconstruct its economy and get it back on track it needs US support. However, when it comes to reorienting its society; it is still a long tale of unfulfilled promises.

Claims about a restructured Iran can only be testified when both its economy and society experience change and openly welcome ideas of democracy and freedom. How far beyond the nuclear deal the US-Iran friendship will last is questionable. It comes across as a temporary fix than a long-term restructuring strategy to end the Cold War between the two. However, the interim deal opens the path for addressing other issues between Washington and Tehran and a way to go about for further cooperation.

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