November 25, 2013
In his book “The Next Decade – where we’ve been and where we’re going”, George Friedman said that “In the next decade, the most desirable option with Iran is going to be delivered through a move that now (2010) seems inconceivable. It is the option chosen by Roosevelt and Nixon when they faced seemingly impossible strategic situations: the creation of alliances with countries that had previously regarded as strategic and moral threats. Roosevelt allied the United States with Stalinist Russia, and Nixon aligned with Maoist China, each to block a third power that was seen as more dangerous.” He went on in explaining that the strategic choice was related to “the need to maintain the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, and to achieve this at a time when the country must reduce the forces devoted to this part of the world”.
What happened on Nov. 24, when following touch-and-go negotiations, a historical first agreement on Iran’s nuclear program was reached in Geneva, represents the inconceivable move. The P5+1 reached a 6 months deal with Iran that begins curtailment of its nuclear program while relaxing as much as $6 billion in sanctions – basically those that do not require U.S. President Barack Obama to secure the OK of Congress. One important question is at this point whether a final agreement has been discussed or whether the discussions have focused only on the first step. And as it is difficult to imagine that the various parties would have been willing to take a first step without have some sense of whether a comprehensive agreement is possible, it is likely that they have an idea of how it might look like. Canada is waiting for such a final deal and remains skeptical that the ‘weekend deal’ will curb Iran’s nuclear’s program, positioning itself in between Israel who called on the deal as being a “historical mistake” and the optimist countries who have negotiated the breakthrough deal. Indeed, what comes next is more important than the current 6 months deal.
Iran acceded to the deal because Teheran’s primary strategic interest is regime survival. Tehran saw, in less than 10 years, a dangerous and unpredictable U.S. that has posted troops on both its eastern and western borders. Iran needs to secure Iraq, its traditional adversary, never again becoming a threat. On the short term, as Stratfor noted in August 2013, while economic sanctions “have not yet forced Iran to the negotiating table, Iranian leaders will likely choose to engage the United States voluntarily to forestall further economic decline. The inauguration of President-elect Hassan Rouhani provides an ideal opportunity for them to do so.” The change of power, confirmed by the elections results on June 15 allowed the U.S. to show some good will, proven by the message that the U.S. delivered on June 27, 2013: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said during a Pentagon news conference that the Strait of Hormuz had been relatively quiet and that the Iranian navy had been “professional and courteous” to U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. According to Greenert, the Iranian navy has abided by the norms that govern naval activity in international waters. Previously, armed speedboats operated provocatively close to U.S. vessels, but they have not done so recently, Greenert said. Such a statement coming from Greenert was most probably made after clearance from the White House.
Iran currently needs Western investment for modernizing its economy and developing its energy industry. Many companies in the West are eager to have the opportunity to invest and do business with the Iranian regime. A final agreement will bring such investments and business to Tehran.
French FM Laurent Fabius said on Nov. 25 that “This lifting of sanctions is limited, targeted and reversible and it would take place in December”. France has challenged attempts for an US-Iranian accord, placing more pressure on the Iranians – something that pleased states like Israel and Saudi Arabia. France has done so as it eyed the Middle East – and specifically the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf as a market for its energy firms and defense exporters. Therefore, while France opposition to the deal would have brought little gains, it has shaped the talks and the regional reactions to the benefit of its domestic industries and has negotiated for gains on the economic front in the region. France also has economic interests in seeing Iran emerge from isolation. For example its auto industry has had a relative strong presence in Iran that was negatively affected by the international sanctions.
Germany and the United Kingdom – the other 2 European powers involved in the talks are both hoping to see a greater entry of their energy and industrial companies (for example Siemens) companies and are also eyeing exports into Iran’s large domestic consumer base. Germany in particular had one of the largest non-energy trade relationships with Iran before the most recent sanctions program.
While this was mostly a US-Iran deal and the final settlement will mainly depend on what the US and Iran agree on, European companies could particularly profit from greater business opportunities with Iran once further contentious issues are settled considering that rivaling US companies will likely have a harder time to enter the market.
The issues that will most likely not be openly addressed in a final settlement – but will most probably be discussed in the background are political. Iran supports the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Shiite groups in the Arabian Peninsula. The U.S. will most likely want for Iran to abandon or reshape these relationships. In the same time, Iran would require that the U.S. would remove support for the anti-Iranian operationals in Iraq and elsewhere. Iran would want the US to abandon any attempts at regime change and, most importantly, the Iranians want to be sure that an Iraqi regime doesn’t grow hostile to Tehran. Just as they don’t want the Saudis and the Americans supporting anti-Iranian Sunnis in Iraq, the US doesn’t want the Iranians trying to destabilize the Arabian Peninsula. All these items are to be discussed as the further negotiations allow the prospect of a final agreement to become reality.Antonia Colibasanu