When sanctions are lifted, Iran will become a zone of intense competition between practically all the great powers, including Russia, which has military and economic interests in Iran.
An Iranian worshipper holds May 2015 edition of a monthly magazine with portrait of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, with writing which reads in Persian: "A minister who dreams of America", being sold at the conclusion of Friday prayer service in Tehran, Iran, Friday, July 17, 2015. Photo: AP
The agreement struck on the night of July 14 after a thirteen-year negotiating marathon between Iran and the six international mediators (the United States, China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia) on the Iranian nuclear program could be submitted to the UN Security Council within the next few days. Most likely it will be done by the United States. The Security Council could also consider an appropriate resolution as early as next week.
The haste is understandable: The parties are keen to present the world with a fait accompli — not only to deflect the hail of criticism of the document, but also to quickly engineer a new international reality in which Iran ceases to be a “rogue state” in opposition to the West and becomes a partner of the United States and Europe, not to mention Russia, China and other countries.
Concurrently, it is assumed that this will deflate the hostility between Iran and its “eternal” enemies in the Middle East — the Arab Sunni states, Turkey and Israel.
The second postulation is the logical consequence of the first. By turning Iran into a partner and preparing for its return to the international community, the world’s leading powers (the P5+1) appear to be vouching for Tehran’s seemly conduct in relations with its regional rivals. Such assignment was not spelled out in the text of the agreement, but it was stated implicitly by U.S. President Barack Obama that if Iran violates its commitments, the United States would resort to military action to eliminate the country’s nuclear capability.
Back home in Iran the agreement was presented to the authorities and the press as a “historic victory,” and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was welcomed in Tehran as a “national hero.”
It is not just a dramatization typical of authoritarian regimes. The fact is that whereas the main pursuit of the P5+1 was to achieve the important goal of preventing an outbreak of hostilities in the Persian Gulf over Iran’s nuclear program (note that such hostilities could break out for reasons other than the nuclear program), as things currently stand, Tehran is the primary beneficiary in some very concrete and tangible ways.
They include the unfreezing of Iranian assets in U.S., European and Asian banks totaling approximately $150 billion, and the lifting of sanctions on energy (and five years down the road on weapons), which, given its vast hydrocarbon reserves, will allow the country to restore its economic and military might, making it the largest and strongest player in the region.
Here the anxiety of most of Iran’s neighbors becomes clear. A simple question arises: Where will the Iranian leadership invest the expected windfall? Only in the economic recovery? Or perhaps in its ongoing policy of supporting and expanding Shia enclaves in Sunni Arab countries, namely Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen?
After all, the P5+1 did not insist that Iran alter its expansionist policy — the subject of the agreement was only the nuclear program. That will be reduced, but not eliminated (Iran’s decommissioned centrifuges will be stored under the supervision of the IAEA, and most of its highly-enriched uranium is due to be exported to Russia, but facilities to produce it will remain inside the country).
In other words, the military component of Iran’s nuclear program has been hurled back from “5-minute” to “15-minute” readiness. Opponents of Tehran in the region are not breathing any easier: if Iran continues its present policy, they will face an adversary with far greater financial, economic and military clout than before.
The only solution seems to be reconciliation between Iran and its opponents, and the agreement reached should bring all sides to the table. Alas, over the past 14 centuries Shias and Sunnis have not managed to reconcile their differences, and that factor is very significant in many regional conflicts, above all Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
For the P5+1, the agreement banishes the apparition less of a mushroom cloud over the Middle East than of a regional war to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power — a war with the power to wreak havoc on the world’s energy markets.
At the same time, Europe is undoubtedly focused on solving its energy supply problems: Iranian oil and gas will weaken dependence on “unpredictable” Russia, and prices should also fall. Meanwhile, European and American business expects to occupy its former positions in Iran, perhaps even to the level enjoyed under the Shah.
China (alongside Japan, South Korea and the whole of Southeast Asia) is delighted at the prospect of high-quality and relatively cheap Iranian oil, which is likely to significantly lower energy prices in general.
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And what about Russia? For those inclined to perceive global world processes through the prism of economics and business, Russia’s behavior here may appear to defy logic. Russia could indeed suffer damage from Iran’s return to the world energy markets. It is the inevitable price to pay.
But for what?
One answer to that is the ability to prevent the emergence of a military nuclear threat on Russia’s borders. And for solidarity with the international community and confirmation of Russia’s role as a responsible state within the framework of the UN Security Council.
At the same time, it should be noted that Russia never abandoned Iran, and maintained important positions in its markets (the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, for instance). For Russia it is important that economic and weapons sanctions on Iran be lifted swiftly so as to affirm, legitimize and expand these positions.
When sanctions are lifted as expected, Iran will become a zone of intense competition between practically all the leading countries of the world — but only on condition that peace in the region is preserved.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.