In November, it was announced that the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China (collectively referred to as the P5+1) had reached an interim agreement with Iran regarding their nuclear program. The agreement is meant to be a first step to a more permanent one and a way for the nations to gain the necessary trust in a process that historically has not led to satisfactory results. Prior to the actual agreement going into effect, certain benchmarks had to be met by Iran, including a stop to its nuclear enrichment program and the reduction of uranium that had already exceeded certain enrichment levels. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran had met the initial requirements for the agreement.
On Monday, January 20, the six month agreement officially went into effect.
As of that date, the nations involved in the negotiations, along with the EU, will partially lift some agreed upon sanctions. The relief is a mixture of humanitarian and financial relief. The most significant is giving Iran access to nearly $7 billion dollars of oil revenue previously inaccessible to them. The amount is small in comparison to the more than $100 billion dollars of revenue currently tied up in sanctions.
During all of this, talks will continue.
The nations will now get to the core issue – the entire nuclear program. The goal is to prevent Iran from developing the capability of weapons-grade uranium. How – or if – this will happen is currently unknown. For now, Iran’s current president Hassan Rouhani has expressed his desire for thawed relations with the west. His focus is Iran’s economy, which has felt the effects of isolation and years of sanctions.
As always, there are detractors within Iran and in the west. Hardliners within the country have a sole goal of complete relief of sanctions, a point the United States would not agree to during negotiations. In the United States, President Obama’s desire for a measured approach has been met with resistance in Congress by those that want nothing less but a hard line taken with the nation.
New Jersey Democratic Senator and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menedez and Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk introduced the Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013 in December. The bill expands current sanctions and imposes new ones on Iran. The bill has received bipartisan support from 59 senators, a veto-proof majority. The bill’s supporters say only the threat of more sanctions will force Iran to stay at the negotiation table. It is for this reason the bill specifies that the sanctions proposed only go into effect if Iran doesn’t adhere to all parts of current and future agreements.
The push for the harder line can be linked to efforts by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The normally non-partisan lobbying outfit is clear in its belief that sanctions – the more the better – are the only solution to dealing with Iran. Their efforts have complicated the issue even within the Democratic ranks, targeting staunch Obama supporters, many of whom have signed on to the Senate bill. AIPAC’s efforts are further ignited by those within Congress who feel that nothing short of war will solve the issues with Iran.
The White House has promised to veto the bill and, thus far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Read (D-NV) has prevented the bill from coming to a vote.
While Israel and other Gulf nations decry the current process, the P5+1 are proceeding cautiously. The State Department is continuing negotiations that include the dismantling of Iran’s reactors, as well as the possibility of lifting some trade sanctions. The White House says that the road to a long-term, comprehensive solution will address the concerns of the international community, while at the same time demanding concrete actions on the part of Iran.
The White House statement concludes, “The United States remains committed to using strong and disciplined diplomacy to reach a peaceful resolution that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
In the meantime, we wait.
Above photo: ARAK, IRAN -Iran's controversial heavy water production facility. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)