London, Asharq Al-Awsat—After more than six years of tough talks between Iran and the P5+1 about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on November 24 that Tehran and the world powers had finally clinched a deal. This news was warmly received by the millions of Iranians who had stayed up late, awaiting the final outcome.
For many Iranians, the sanctions relief included in the agreement represents the prospect for better economic conditions while also eliminating the shadow of war that has loomed over the country in recent years. However the contents of the deal were not the most important aspect for a large number of Iranians who had anxiously followed news of the negotiations through the Facebook and Twitter posts of journalists attending the Geneva talks. Rather, the most significant thing was to see their country extricate itself from the difficult impasse it has found itself in over the past few years.
Certain segments of Iran’s political establishment had no clear position on the negotiations and subsequent deal. The administration of President Hassan Rouhani views this agreement as a quick coup, coming just over a hundred days into his presidential term, while Iran’s conservatives have described the agreement as a failure.
Hardliners took to Facebook and Twitter following the announcement of the deal to complain that after ten years of resistance, the new government had surrendered their position in exchange for money. One online activist described the Geneva deal as a “tragedy.” Hardline MPs also swiftly expressed their disappointment following the announcement of the deal, even before concrete details had emerged.
Before the hardliners could close ranks in Tehran and trigger a wave of protest against the deal, Rouhani held a press conference and hailed Iran’s great success in Geneva. Rouhani addressed the media, thronged by family members of “Nuclear Martyrs”—an allusion to assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists. Rouhani also wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, congratulating him on the agreement. Ayatollah Khamenei responded by endorsing the performance of the Iranian nuclear negotiators. These two actions allowed the Iranian president to pre-empt any hardline protests.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with four Iranian analysts about the Geneva deal and its repercussions.
Elaheh Koulaei, a professor of regional studies at the University of Tehran, affirmed that the agreement brought positive results for both Iran and the world powers, adding that everyone will benefit from the deal.
An expert in Russian affairs, Koulaei described the deal as “win–win,” telling Asharq Al-Awsat: “It seems that this agreement will generate positive developments for Iran, the Iranian people and even people in the region. These positive outcomes will be clearer in the coming months when more progress could be made in the talks.”
Koulaei, who is also a former reformist lawmaker, underscored Iran’s position in the region and its exit from an “imposed isolation.”
“Iran’s exit from this isolation could be an opportunity for regional countries to boost peace and security in the region with Iran’s help,” she said.
She added: “The advantage of this cooperation for the countries directly and indirectly involved in these negations will be a strong motivation for the continuation of efforts to overcome the existing pessimism. Such a motivation will set the stage for more significant agreements.”
Iranian political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam describes the Geneva nuclear deal as a “turning point in the history of the Islamic Republic.” The Tehran University professor of politics stressed that the agreement goes beyond the nuclear issue and narrows the gap between Iran and the West, adding that Tehran has taken a major step away from enmity with the West.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Many in Iran are speaking about the costs Iran has endured over its nuclear activities and wonder what Iran has gained now. Personally, I think that these views belong to the past. The important thing is that a big step has been taken.”
For Zibakalam, this agreement is a victory for Rouhani’s administration, and he insists that it will only serve to strengthen the position of moderates in Iran.
Unlike Zibakalam, Washington-based analyst Omid Memarian does not believe that the Geneva interim agreement is a “historic deal”. He tells Asharq Al-Awsat that the real problems have only just started between Iran and the West.
Memarian said that the disclosure of the details of the agreement have provided Iran’s hardliners with sufficient ammunition to criticize it and call it into question.
“After the contents of the agreement were revealed, hawkish Congressmen and Senators in the US started issuing criticisms. Had the deal remained secret, critics might not have any pretext. But the point is that both sides should be able to resist hardline criticisms”, he said.
Memarian stressed that both Washington and Tehran needed the agreement, adding that “if diplomacy is not fruitful, then the war option becomes more probable.”
“The Obama administration loathes the idea of entering another war due to internal challenges in the US, but there are many in the Congress and Senate who tried to describe the talks as not constructive and pave the way for war against Iran,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“The government is facing a ruined economy and an empty treasury, and it needs to take a step towards agreement in a bid to win sanctions and pressure relief,” he added.
Ali Mohaqeq, editor-in-chief of reformist Ebtekar newspaper in Tehran, informed Asharq Al-Awsat why no such agreement between Iran and the West had been achieved over the past decade.
“From 2003 to 2005, some ruling political groups in the country resisted such a deal in the name of reformists. At the same time in the US, George Bush and the Republican hawks were in power and they placed Iran on the ‘Axis of Evil’ without offering any clear reason”, he said.
Mohaqeq affirmed that public calls for a settlement and sanctions relief had also been largely absent just two years ago, adding that “most people were indifferent to this specific issue and the only voice being heard from Iran was the famous official slogan of the regime: Nuclear energy is our absolute right.”
“Due to all these issues, even the Saad Abad Declaration was not taken seriously by Iranians and the Americans,” Mohaqeq added in reference to the 2003 agreement between Tehran and the three EU countries at the negotiations, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.