Well a framework agreement has been signed between Iran and the P5+1 nations to much acclaim in Iran and on the Left and equal chagrin on the part of Israel and some of its Arab neighbours. Needless to say the early commentators come with their partisan agendas and spin the story accordingly. So what’s the truth – if that is a meaningful question?
One answer is (and maybe the best): the the proof will be in the pudding. The pudding may not even be put into the oven since this is only the framework and much can happen before June. Maybe Iran will behave so outrageously in the interim, carried away by its diplomatic achievement, that the whole deal falls through. This does not seem likely and I wouldn’t bank on it. But the region is volatile enough and the global situation sufficiently fluid that nothing can be totally discounted.
At first glance it seems like quite a strong framework if the goal is to ensure that Iran can’t make a rush for the tape before detection and the appropriate response by Israel or the USA and international community. But these are technical and political questions and a concern remains that in a country like Iran getting convincing and reliable hard intelligence is extremely difficult. If there are ways in which these restrictions can be finessed the Iranians will be sure to think of them. So close surveillance will be essential and what if the USA or other members of the P5+1 refuse to take note or act upon the evidence?
But, supporters of the framework assert, the restrictions are tougher than expected and will certainly set the Iranian program back from where it is right now. So why the carping? After all, surely Iran is within its rights to use nuclear technology for non-military purposes? To refuse it that would infringe upon the sovereign legitimacy of an independent state.
That argument would be more convincing if Iran had not misled the world repeatedly up to the present regarding its program and facilities. It would be more convincing if it stopped its ruthless suppression of dissenting opinion at home and its threats and military interference in the region. The fact is that Iran is behaving as a rogue state with a radical, hegemonic agenda, destabilising the region and directly threatening Israel’s very existence. Normal criteria should not apply to such political entities.
One of the problems is that in such low-trust, high stake dynamics, the rational actions of the individual states to protect their perceived interests tend to enhance instability and the risk of miscalculation rather than reduce it. In the eyes of Israel and its neighbours this would seem as almost as great a concern as the actual possession of nuclear weapons. In this view continued pressure on Iran would serve to curb its belligerence in the region and help stabilise the situation. Conversely, failure to do so will further embolden the regime and result in an increased intensification of military conflict.
Others would contest that argument and propose that reducing diplomatic and economic pressure will help tame the Iranian tiger, even if only partially. I do not have the answer to this and perhaps all the pundits don’t either. It would seem to be a time for some caution both in words and deeds. As the dust settles it may be possible to see better which way the tide is flowing.
I haven’t made a systematic effort to read up on all the analyses flooding the internet, but here are two perspectives from different parts of the opinion spectrum for your consideration: pro-agreement and anti-agreement.