Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

New chapter on the horizon

The framework agreement between Western powers and Iran may come at a cost to Arab countries. Nonetheless, a diplomatic resolution was the correct path, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

After marathon negotiations, the P5+1 and Iran reached a framework agreement 2 April concerning the Iranian nuclear question. As signed, the agreement would lead to a final accord by 30 June. The next three months will be crucial. As US President Barack Obama said on 2 April, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That relates to the technical aspects of the framework agreement, but the politics surrounding the agreement be it in the United States, the Gulf region, or in Israel  is altogether a different story.

To simplify matters, let me sum up the twofold objectives of the framework agreement in the following words without entering into a technical explanation. From the point of view of the P5+1, the objective was to make sure that Iran will not have a nuclear bomb, whether in the near future or anytime in the distant future.

From the Iranian point of view, the objective was to carry on its peaceful programme in the field of nuclear energy, and immediate sanctions relief. The Iranian definition of sanctions relief means the immediate end to the sanctions regime imposed by the UN Security Council and by Western powers.

In his weekly address, the US president said 4 April that the agreement, “if fully implemented, will prevent (Iran) from obtaining a nuclear weapon ... ” He went on to say that the deal of 2 April is a “good one that meets our core objectives, including strict limitations on Iran’s programme and cutting off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.” According to President Obama, the deal is not based “on trust, it is based on unprecedented verification”, and it represents an historic opportunity “to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran ... ”

News of the agreement was received with great misgivings in Israel and in the Gulf region. For newly-re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in his own words, the agreement was worse than he had expected. He demanded that Iran should acknowledge the right of Israel to exist in any final accord by 30 June a request the US State Department rightly rejected.

As for the Gulf countries, the agreement could not have been reached at a worse time, when the Arab coalition of 10 countries, including Egypt, has staged military operations in Yemen against the Houthis to prevent Iran from gaining a strategic foothold on the southern borders of Saudi Arabia.

To assuage the fears of US allies and partners in the Middle East, President Obama called both the Israeli prime minister and the Saudi monarch, King Salman, on 2 April, and phoned the other Gulf monarchs the following day. In all the phone conversations, the US president reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the security of its allies and partners in the Middle East, and reiterated American resolve to work with all of them to counter Iranian behaviour in the region. He invited the Gulf monarchs to a summit at Camp David this spring. In the case of Israel, he told Netanyahu that he had instructed the National Security Council to increase security cooperation with the new Israeli government.

The agreement was met with fierce opposition by Republicans in the United States. The possible presidential contenders on the Republican side were opposed to the deal in varying degrees. The most vehement was former Florida governor Marcs Rubio, who will announce his presidential bid 13 April. He called the agreement a “diplomatic failure”.

Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor and brother of the predecessor of President Obama at the White House, said the details of the agreement include “significant concessions to a nation whose leaders call for the death of America the destruction of Israel”. He added that Iran remains “a major destabilising force in the region, working against American interests”.

Congressional Republicans are not happy with the framework agreement and would like to exercise oversight in negotiations leading to a final accord. The White House has welcomed an engagement with Congress in this respect. According to official sources in the White House, “it is important for Congress to play an oversight role as we continue these negotiations and finalise a deal ... finding constructive ways for Congress to engage. What would not be constructive is legislative action that essentially undercuts our ability to get the deal done and that is disruptive to the negotiations.”

The framework agreement to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of November 2013 should be seen as a vindication of the diplomatic option adopted by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, particularly the United States after the inauguration of President Obama in January 2009. The US administration, while not excluding the military option, has pushed for a diplomatic solution against fierce Israeli opposition under Netanyahu, who from the outset wanted to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. And this despite strong disagreements with various military and security officials who did not believe that Iran was on the verge of manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

Other alternatives were not tenable in the long run. Maintaining the sanctions against Iran had not stopped the Iranians from developing their nuclear capacities and programmes. A military attack was not considered certain of destroying all nuclear facilities in Iran, let alone the dangerous repercussions of such an attack, not only across the Middle East and the Gulf area, but throughout the world. It goes without saying that the diplomatic solution will have wide-ranging impact on the present balance of power in the Middle East and the Gulf. A full normalisation of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States, for the first time since 1979, and other Western powers if a final accord is reached by 30 June will usher in a new chapter in the history of the region as well as new dynamics that will not be in the best interests of Israel and some Arab powers. Regional power relations will be rearranged, and not necessarily to the best advantage of Arab countries, including Egypt. Having said that, I personally believe that the pursuit of the diplomatic option has been the best course of action to settle the Iranian nuclear question.

To counter any strategic disadvantages that might befall leading Arab powers, Arab countries should get together and work out much-needed solutions to destabilising Arab crises, namely, Syria, Yemen and Libya. This is the only way to counterbalance the rising power of Iran in the Middle East after the signing of the final accord between the P5+1 and Iran by the end of June, if the framework agreement is fully respected by the signatory parties. The Iranian foreign minister said on April 4 that his country wants to have a “moderate, constructive and proud presence in the world,” and that “... we are not after a nuclear bomb. We are not after hegemony in the region, too ... Security of our neighbours is our security too.” Good words that must be matched by concrete actions on the ground.

The writer is former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister.

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