Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Opening up Iran to the rest of the world

The debate on the recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme will be decided by Iran and how far it contains its nuclear capacity, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

For almost 12 years, the P5+1 group of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany negotiated with Iran on its nuclear programme, which was considered a threat to the region and to world security.

Throughout these years of negotiations, there was a debate among scholars on the prospects for any agreement to be reached. The debate intensified when a Framework Agreement was reached in Lausanne in April and a permanent agreement was reached in Vienna in July.

The debate was on two major issues: whether the agreement would really guarantee the deterrence of Iran’s building or maintaining nuclear weapons, and the question of Iran’s behaviour in the region and whether it could be persuaded not to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries, particularly the Gulf countries, or to support radical groups that could undermine the stability of some Arab countries.

The debate produced two schools of thought. On the nuclear issue, the school of thought that defends the agreement believes that it will contain the Iranian programme for at least ten years through strict inspections and by reducing the number of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges from 20,000 to 6,000 and its uranium-enrichment capacity from 20 per cent to three per cent.

This school of thought also believes that the agreement will guarantee the security of the region and discourage other countries from building their own nuclear programmes.

 The school of thought that opposes the agreement with Iran doubts Iran’s intentions and thinks the agreement will not deter Iran from building nuclear weapons. It thinks that the agreement will not stop the race to build nuclear weapons, with the former American defence secretary William Cohen saying that, on the contrary, the agreement will incentivise the region to seek further nuclear reactors.

On the second issue, regarding how the agreement influences Iran’s behaviour in the region, the first school of thought believes that the agreement will rationalise Iran’s behaviour, causing it to cooperate with other countries and to cooperate in addressing conflicts in the region.

This school recalls the Iranian foreign minister, on the eve of the agreement, saying that it would offer new horizons of cooperation on regional issues, focusing on terrorism which he considered to be an enemy of civilisation.

The second school of thought believes, however, that Iran’s behaviour in the region will not change. If Iran under economic sanctions supported radical forces in the region, its officials boasting that Iran dominated four Arab capitals, what will it do when it is released from economic sanctions, given $120 billion in frozen funds, and regains its capacity to produce four million barrels of oil a day instead of the 1.5 million a day it has produced under sanctions, this school asked.

But what will decide this debate and the future of the agreement to a large extent depends on Iran and how far it genuinely implements the agreement in a way that proves it has really contained its nuclear capacity. It will also depend on Iran addressing its neighbours’ security concerns and stops its support for groups undermining their stability.

Iran will also be encouraged to stop its interference in the domestic affairs of its neighbours when they succeed in building their domestic political and social immunity, as well as comprehensive solidarity among the Arab countries, or at least among leading countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan.

On the broader level, what will help Iran to open up to the world is the world opening up to Iran, something that European countries such as France, Britain and Austria are already doing. This will create economic and trade opportunities and encourage the Iranians to engage with the world and integrate Iran into the world’s political and economic systems.

That is exactly what happened with China and Vietnam after decades of isolation, and it is expected to happen with Cuba after the recent reconciliation between Havana and Washington.

If US President Barack Obama and his secretary of state believe that the agreement will guarantee the security of the region, we also believe that the security of the region should be comprehensive and free of the existential threat that the Israeli nuclear arsenal imposes on the region and its people.

At present, the Israeli monopoly on nuclear weapons motivates others to develop their nuclear potential. The right and responsible policy is to ensure that the region has no nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction. Thus far, this demand has been frustrated by the US.


The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs.

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