Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Look at Iran

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Iranian Hostage crisis, when young students and  revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. They captured 52 embassy staff, who were held hostage for over a year as the revolutionaries demanded the return of recently-ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from the US.

Today, thousands in Tehran marked the anniversary with an anti-US rally outside the Embassy. These rallies happen yearly on the anniversary, though it’s notable that this year’s rally is smaller than it has been in previous years. The "Down with America" and "Death to Israel" cries are getting fainter. Still, I can only imagine how terrifying this must be for the State Department personnel at post. Surely, the smaller rallies are a good sign…?


The rally provides context for the high-level Iranian nuclear negotiations, for which the deadline is November 24th. So far, US-led talks with Iranian President Rouhani have boded well for a solution that will relieve Western sanctions on Iran and while stalling their nuclear program (Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei will have the final say). The US has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran since the 1979 revolution and hostage crisis. The sanctions have tightened over the decades as Iran's nuclear ambitions have increased. Easing them would mean a significant boost for Iran's economic well-being. However, easing the sanctions in exchange for foregoing nuclear, anti-Western ambitions is not popular on all sides of the table... or even, as we see, in the streets of Tehran.

Israeli President Nehanyatu has repeatedly warned that reducing sanctions on Iran would open avenues for them to acquire or develop nuclear capabilities. In an October meeting with President Obama, Nehanyatu warned of the dangers of Iran as a "threshold nuclear power", likening Shia Iran to the Islamic State. While it's a stretch to compare the current regime's violence with that of the Islamic State, there's no denying the deep enmity between Iraq and Israel. And while Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, no one is buying it; especially not Israel.

The Arab states, meanwhile, have long feared increased regional ambitions from their Shia rival. They have good reason to fear a nuclear Iran: Would Iran's belligerent protégés (Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, etc.) eventually find themselves party to Iran's nuclear club? With Iranian meddling perpetuating sectarian violence in their regions, the Gulf states, the Levant states, and others would be clamoring for nuclear capabilities of their own to level the playing field.


In the meantime, the P5+1 and Iran are hashing out the details: how many centrifuges are allowed, how much low-enriched uranium is allowed, etc. The Security Council States will have to handle the matter delicately as Iran has proved stubborn about its ballistic missile testing program and uranium enrichment.  Iran will, however, need to be transparent about its nuclear development in the future if it wishes to bolster international cooperation.

The deadline for a final agreeement is in less than 3 weeks. Let's just hope no one does anything stupid.

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