Iran: the agreement reached in Lausanne is positive, but a few doubts remain

Lausanne is a small town that up until yesterday was known for being the Olympic Capital, seeing as it hosts the International Olympic Committee. From now on it will be known as the home of an agreement between Iran and the 5+1 Group (US, Russia, China, France, Great Britain + Germany) on the nuclear issue. A victory for Washington and Tehran, a defeat for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the other Sunni countries. A victory also for that purpose driven diplomacy that should enable Iran to develop its own economy and the US to monitor the Iranian uranium enrichment program step by step. Yet there are still unknown quantities in the balance.

REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

The US Secretary of State John Kerry is overjoyed. As is American President Barack Obama. The same can be said of Iranian President Hassan Rohani. According to Obama, the agreement reached in Lausanne makes it less likely that Tehran will develop a nuclear warhead. "The world will be a safer place, there's no doubt. It's a good deal", were Obama's words, aware that more months of negotiations will be needed to reach a final agreement. Even the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, termed the progress of negotiations as positive, despite "many issues and details still remain to be solved". Time will bring good counsel is the general impression, because much progress has been made, and much of it was by no means a foregone conclusion. In spite of overstepping the deadline by a couple of days, it is also true that both parties have made many and significant concessions. A sign that there was a political and diplomatic will to come up with a solution acceptable by all.

The details are crucial. Iran has undertaken to reduce its centrifuges by two thirds. Only the 50 – 60 IR-1 first generation models will remain operational. Plus, Tehran has decided not to enrich its uranium beyond 3.67% for the next fifteen years. It has also agreed to painstaking monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who Obama believes will be no pushovers. The IAEA verifications will be essential for the removal of the sanctions currently imposed on the country. And up until June, as Rohani himself has stated: "Agreement has been reached on key parameters. We will immediately start work on the draft, that will be ready by 30 June". A promising start, that should allow Tehran to use nuclear power for civil purposes, but limits its ability to build its own nuclear weapons. At least in theory.

Great satisfaction is expressed by the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who underlined how the agreement will help the country find a new dimension on the international stage. This is true, because if the sanctions are removed, Iran will start to benefit from globalisation. Less economic sanctions means more opportunity for international trade and prosperity. And that's how the Iranians see it too, and immediately welcomed the Lausanne agreement with drivers honking their horns in most of the country's main city streets. Now they can look to the future with greater optimism that in the past.

Washington too has reason to be happy, seeing as it is gradually showing it can play a significant diplomatic role in a very unstable and disrupted world.

Three countries however have serious misgivings about the agreement. Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to the Israeli Minister for Internal Security Yuval Steinitz, "the smiles in Lausanne are detached from grim reality in which Iran refuses to make any concessions on the nuclear issue and continues to threaten Israel and all other countries in the Middle East. We still hope to prevent a bad (final) agreement." Israel will go to any lengths, from today on, the first day of Pesach, to protect itself. As Prime Minster Benyamin Netanyahu insisted, Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power. Even if this means engaging in military action, the country is ready. After all, as Israelis point out, though the Arak plant will be shut down, the Natanz one will remain active, and Tehran will in any case be capable of building its own atom bomb in no more than 12 months.

There are, in actual fact, a few questions that still need answering. When will the sanctions be lifted? How will the IAEA operate? What kind of pressure, if any, with the Iranian authorities exert on the IAEA? How will the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty be implemented inside the country? As Karim Sadjapour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank explained there are various versions of the agreement, the American one and the European one, so which one will be worked on from here on in? What role will the countries against the Lausanne agreement play? Will they allow US diplomacy to run its course or will they try to undermine it? And finally, can Rohani be so sure he can head the country down a specific, lasting and sustainable path? At present, these are all questions that lack answers and could undermine what is certainly a historic, yet fragile understanding.   

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