Nuke deal's outcome not clear

Nuke deal's outcome not clear
From left) Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Geneva yesterday after negotiating a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

THE six-nation agreement on Iran's nuclear programme was rightly hailed by its negotiators as "historic", the first in over a decade of confrontation.

But this does not tell us much, since all major achievements and monumental failures are ultimately historic, and the agreement with Iran can fall into either category: It could lead to a peaceful Middle East, but can also act as just a prelude to a new Middle Eastern war.

The outcome will be decided less by whether the current deal is respected, but more by how everyone behaves in the months to come.

Not surprisingly, both sides are eager to put their spin on what was agreed. The US is justified in claiming that Iran has pledged to halt enrichment of uranium to a weapon-grade purity of beyond 5 per cent, and "neutralise" stockpiles of 20 per cent enriched uranium.

The Americans also claim victory over another major demand: a halt to activity at the Natanz and Fordow nuclear installations.

But Iran is also correct to assert that the deal implicitly accepts the country's right to its national enrichment programme and changes nothing on the ground: Half of the nuclear centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of those at Fordow are already installed, and even if they go silent, can be restarted at will. Furthermore, "neutralising" highly enriched uranium is not the same as shipping it out of the country, which is what Western governments have always demanded.

These differences, though important, may not be strategically significant, provided the initial purpose of this deal is kept firmly in mind: This is a temporary agreement to allow negotiators to move towards a long-term settlement. But the danger is that the temporary will become permanent, with disastrous consequences.

US President Barack Obama is already struggling to persuade Congress to accept the deal, claiming that it has "cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb". But very few Congressmen even within his party buy this assertion; convincing them that the administration has an idea what it will do in the next six months won't be easy.

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