Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Saving the nuclear deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has just three months in which to save the Iranian nuclear deal from cancellation by the United States, writes Camelia Entekhabifard


Saving the nuclear deal
Saving the nuclear deal

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected for the first time four years ago, his goals were to settle the country’s nuclear dispute with the West, boost the country’s economy, and improve relations with Iran’s Arab neighbours.

It took the president and his team two years to reach the deal with the West over Iran’s nuclear programme that has been called historic in its significance and then almost two years more to implement it. It was only then that Rouhani could set to work on trying to improve Iran’s shattered economy.

However, then the cards changed, and a new US president came to power who is unhappy with the Iran deal and wants to withdraw from it if he can find a way to do so. Meanwhile, in Iran Rouhani was himself re-elected as president in May, but it seems that not too much should be expected of him aside from trying to save the deal which was his biggest achievement in his first four-year term.

Rouhani said at his inauguration on 1 August that Iran had not violated the nuclear deal and wanted to keep it regardless of what the US administration does. This was a bold statement on the regime’s behalf that the president made in front of hundreds of guests invited for his inauguration in Tehran.

In order to minimise the damage from any US decision to withdraw from the deal, not only the EU but also perhaps Iran’s Arab neighbours need to stand with the country on continuing it. However, for Saudi Arabia in particular it may be a little late to believe in Iran’s friendship and its wish to make up with its neighbours.

There was much excitement in the region when Rouhani was first elected four years ago, and Saudi Arabia expressed its interest in improving relations with Iran. However, instead those relations sank to their lowest level since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

The first excuse was Iran’s busy schedule with the nuclear talks, and when the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked in January 2016 instead of sending an apology the Iranians blamed Saudi Arabia for “provocation”.

Iran now does not have diplomatic ties with Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, and on 20 July Kuwait also asked Iran to close its cultural and military offices in the country and expelled 15 Iranian diplomats.

It will thus be a difficult task for Rouhani to improve relations with the Arab countries in his new four-year term in office when his main goal must be to make the economy better by saving the Iran deal.

The president has also implicitly challenged the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which has been irritating the international community by testing missiles at the same time as the UN Security Council was debating UN Security Council Resolution 2231 on possible Iranian violations of the deal.

However, it is not known whether other conservative factions in the Iranian regime have been told by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to support the president, or whether they wish to see Iran remain committed to the nuclear deal, but perhaps they will wait to see what the US does before acting.

Iran’s economy has not been boosted as much as people in the country had wished for, mainly because of uncertainty over the deal’s future, and major banks and foreign investors have expressed fears about re-entering Iran.

The EU has strongly expressed its commitment to the nuclear deal regardless of the US decision, but the role of the US is important enough to make investors feel uncomfortable about the threat of sanctions on Iran and possible punishments for being involved in the country.

There are rumours in Washington that US President Donald Trump may not sign the executive order on 17 October, which he is entitled to sign every 90 days, certifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and suspending sanctions related to its nuclear programme, and this uncertainty has affected Iran’s political climate.

Rouhani at the endorsement ceremony held by the country’s supreme leader on 30 July ahead of the inauguration in parliament on 1 August repeated that Iran wanted to have a “constructive engagement with the world.”

But this constructive engagement need not be with the US alone, especially as Khamenei asked the government to “stand up straight” against the US, perhaps meaning that there was a need to build a coalition to defend the deal if Trump tears it up.

The time is running out for Rouhani to save the nuclear deal, as Trump has to certify it by 17 October, meaning that Rouhani has only three months in which to use all his charm and diplomacy to develop constructive engagements with anyone who can negotiate with the United States and influence the US president.

To build international support, perhaps the Iranians will begin with the United Nations, as the General Assembly meeting starts on 19 September, and Rouhani is scheduled to address UN member states on 20 September.

This will likely be an opportunity to address Trump indirectly and ask the international community to support the deal as a means towards achieving peace and stability in the region.

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