Six months from now, maybe sooner, we’ll know if January 20, 2014 will be remembered as Iran’s Nuclear Day – in a good sense – or if it’s just another date in the history of Tehran’s frustrating relations with the West. January 20 is the day the agreement signed in November goes into effect. It’s the day the implementation test begins.
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Iran must show that it’s halting 20-percent uranium enrichment, and then, in the first stage, the Western countries will release the half-billion dollars Iran has deposited in their banks. The International Atomic Energy Agency will then monitor the implementation of the agreement, stage after stage.
If the IAEA is satisfied, more and more funds will be released, as much as $8 billion. Actually, this number will top $20 billion if we take into account permission for Iran to sell oil at current levels and to import gold.
Iran’s nuclear program and the sanctions aren’t the only things to be put to the test. The necks of President Hassan Rohani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will be on the line, based on what happens with the agreement. So both are trying to quiet down their rivals.
Two weeks ago, Iranian media reported on a plan to establish a “monitoring committee” to examine the Iranian negotiating team’s performance in the talks with the major powers. They want to determine the extent Khamenei’s instructions were implemented; to ensure there were no deviations from his red lines. This announcement was apparently geared toward rebuffing criticism of Rohani by the Revolutionary Guard.
Rohani, meanwhile, is continuing to make hazy declarations, promising that Iran “will not withdraw one iota from its legitimate nuclear rights and will meet any aggression with a much harsher response.” Khamenei’s man in the Revolutionary Guard charges that Khamenei’s four red lines – continued uranium enrichment, preserving the honor of the Islamic Republic, the reversibility of the agreement and keeping the nuclear sites open – weren’t carefully nurtured during the negotiations.
The heart of the dispute is the interpretation of those red lines. The negotiating team says uranium enrichment is continuing, though at 5 percent, and that Khamenei didn’t specify any enrichment ceiling.
The nuclear sites were not shut down, although the number of active centrifuges was limited, as was the installation of new centrifuges. The agreement is reversible, and its implementation depends on whether the Western countries fulfill their commitments.
“Iran’s consent to freeze its 20-percent uranium enrichment is voluntary and may be canceled at any time,” said Iranian MP Esmail Kowsari. As for preserving Iran’s honor, spokespeople are saying the regime was accorded equal status to that of the big powers, that it removed the threat of a military attack, and that it boosted Iran’s standing as a potential partner in managing regional conflicts, especially the crisis in Syria.
Khamenei hasn’t made any accusations himself and hasn’t offered his interpretation. He seems to be waiting for the implementation stage, especially for the release of the Iranian funds, which could revive the economy. Rohani, on the other hand, isn’t waiting for the funds to flow.
He’s speaking this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, will be taking part in a panel discussion on the future of the Middle East. This will be the first time in a decade that an Iranian president is on hand at Davos.
Rohani won’t confine himself to political declarations; he aims to lay the groundwork for economic cooperation with Europe. Such cooperation revived the moment the agreement was signed in November. French companies Renault and Peugeot were present at the Tehran Motor Show in December, and German companies are mulling infrastructure investments.
Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri has told Fars news agency that Western oil giants are interested in developing oil fields, and that Iran will make any contract contingent on acquiring services and equipment from Iranian manufacturers and suppliers. This is also good news for Rohani’s opponents in the Revolutionary Guard, a big player in the Iranian economy.
It has been just six months since Rohani was elected president. He has three and a half years to go in his term, and if Iranian political tradition holds true, if he somehow doesn’t mess up too much, he can expect another four-year term.
In this very short time, Rohani has managed to change Iran’s image, sign a nuclear agreement and block any opposition against him. His tenure could be a chance to build a new relationship with the West, especially the United States. Such a relationship could be the strongest guarantee that any agreement will work.