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Opinion: Iran’s Suspect Deal in the Making | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Reza Najafi hands documents to journalists after a board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, on March 4, 2015. (Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader)

By all indications both the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and US President Barack Obama appear determined to reach some sort of agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. The deadline they seem to have fixed is March 31, which coincides with the end of Iranian New Year holidays.

Earlier this week, in an interview with Reuters, Obama hinted at the broad outlines of the putative accord.

Under it, Iran’s nuclear program will be frozen at more or less the present level which, speaking quickly so that he would say it without being caught out, Obama said would keep Iran a year away from building its first bomb if it ever decided to do so.

In exchange, Iran would agree to remain in that position, known as “threshold,” for 10 years, a “sunset” clause that could be reviewed after five years.

In other words, after a minimum of five and a maximum of 10 years Iran would be free to cross the “threshold” from the current one year to months or even weeks, going high-gear producing a nuclear arsenal. In other words, Obama has decided to resign himself to the possibility of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic.

As a reward for accepting the five to 10 years’ probation, Iran would benefit from a gradual reduction and eventual lifting of some sanctions imposed since the 1990s. (A range of sanctions imposed prior to that date and linked to other “mischiefs” allegedly committed by Iran would not be affected by any accord on the nuclear issue.)

Provided it actually happens, such an accord would amount to an admission by Iran that it has committed “crimes” in the form of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and thus must endure international probation for up to a decade.

The accord would also give the P5+1 group, of which the US is the most active member, what is known in diplomatic language as a droit-de-regard (right of supervision) on major aspects of Iranian industrial and economic policies.

The whole P5+1 show has quite a few disturbing aspects.

To start with, the P5+1 is an informal ad hoc body whose legitimacy remains murky at best.

We don’t know who or what it represents as a group.

It is not mandated by the United Nations; for that we should have had a Security Council resolution spelling out its composition, rules of conduct, and mission statement. The fact that talks have ignored six Security Council resolutions on the very subject of Iran’s nuclear program shows that the P5+1 is not acting on behalf of the UN.

The group does not represent any economic or military alliance, for example the European Union and/or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), either. It doesn’t even represent an informal but generally recognized grouping such as the G-8—if only because Russia, which remains a member of the P5+1, has been expelled from the G-8.

To sum up: the P5+1 has no legal existence, no mandate, no mission statement, and thus no authority to conclude any accord with Iran which is a properly constituted nation state, a member of the UN and thus enjoys full sovereignty and legitimacy.

Then we face the question of who is going to sign any accord and on whose behalf?

On the Iranian side the answer is clear: any properly mandated official of the Islamic Republic could sign.

But, what about the other side?

Would all P5+1 countries sign and, if yes, at what level?

Even then, what would the European Union’s Foreign Affairs tsarina Federica Mogherini do? Theoretically, she is supposed to be the P5+1’s interface with the Islamic Republic.

Another question concerns the status of whatever is eventually signed. Would it be just a desiderata list, as was the case with the so-called Geneva Accord, later devalued into just a press statement?

Or are we aiming at a Memorandum of Understanding which, in diplomatic lore, is a rough copy for a proper treaty?

Or, perhaps, the aim is to arrive at an international treaty in due form?

In that case, whatever is initialed at the end of the current talks would have to be submitted to proper legislative procedure in Iran, in all P5+1 countries, and in all 28 member states of the European Union.

I doubt that the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s ersatz parliament, would approve a text that puts the nation under foreign tutelage for up to 10 years, despite its being made up of regime loyalists.

Iranians of all ideological shades are allergic to foreign intervention in their domestic affairs. And the painful memories of 1919, when Britain and Russia tried to put Iran under their joint tutelage are still burning many Iranian hearts.

Even Khomeinists, who as pan-Islamists reject nationalism as deviation from “the Only True Faith,” might not find it easy to accept an accord under which Iran would need the signature of foreign powers to spend its own money, and that for up to 10 years.

On the other side, the US Congress as well as the French and British parliaments are also unlikely to rubber-stamp a text that would leave Iran only a year from making a bomb.

All international treaties include a mechanism for arbitration without which it would be impossible to gauge compliance.

So who or what is going to be the arbitration authority and the guarantor of compliance of whatever text is concocted by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Khomeinist counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif?

If we go by the five to 10 year clause it is clear that neither Kerry nor Zarif are likely to be in a position of power when those fatidic sunsets descend.

Even then, we would not be at the end of the story.

Someone would still have to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding the cancellation of all previous resolutions under which Iran has been subjected to international sanctions for decades.

President Hassan Rouhani and his so-called “New York Group” of aides would be doing Iran and even their own Khomeinist camp a big disservice by submitting to the diktats of an informal group acting as judge, jury and executioner.

Iran would do better to hold direct and transparent talks on an equal legal footing with the US, nation to nation, and with the UN as a member state, and with any other country with which there is a contention, on all issues of dispute.

The mullahs are known for devious tactics of taqiyah (obfuscation), kitman (dissimulation), and istitar (pulling a curtain) when they want to surrender without losing face. However, such tactics are not worthy of a proper nation state, especially a proud one such as Iran.