Iran has achieved a key success in its war of nerves
Iran has achieved a key success in its war of nerves

All negotiations boil down to a few existential issues: Security, Resources, Control, Reputation/Recognition and Time/Risk. Plus, depending on how the other aspects are tackled, Trust. Skilful negotiators trade both within and between these ideas.

How does the Iran nuclear negotiation look from this point of view?

Basically, for years Iran has given every impression of being bent on developing nuclear weapons under guise of a civil nuclear programme, and cranked up provocative anti-Israel rhetoric. The West with varying support from Russia and China has leant hard on Iran through economic and political sanctions to try to head off "weaponisation". These sanctions have hit Iran and its people hard, to the point of bringing to power a "relative moderate", Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani indicated that he was ready for a new start.

Hence this deal. The essence is simple. Iran promises to take certain specific steps consistent with scaling back its nuclear programme and denying itself nuclear weapons processes, promising explicitly that “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons”. In return sanctions are eased. This agreement lasts six months while a comprehensive agreement is negotiated.

Right at the heart of the agreement is Trust: how can the West trust the Iranians not to cheat? This is answered by bringing in an unusually intrusive international inspection regime led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose expert inspectors will have daily access to key Iranian installations. In return Western governments will need to do what they have promised by way of suspending/easing sanctions to show Iran that they too can be trusted.

Thus Iran gets Resources (eased sanctions), shares Control over its programme (with the IAEA), and wins new international Recognition as a sane partner with a right to nuclear energy. The Time/Risk factor is managed by phasing in the agreement over this first six months period, in a step-by-step building of new mutual Trust.

The West plus Russia and China (and Israel) get the Security and Control that come from keeping a tight watch on Iranian nuclear activities, and (hope President Obama and the EU) the Recognition at home and around the world arising from a major diplomatic success. The fact that Russia and China have been closely involved in negotiating this deal significantly raises the stakes at the United Nations for Iran if any future Iranian leadership tries to wriggle back from its promises on weaponisation.

What about Israel? What security margin can Israel accept when it comes to Iran and its civil nuclear programmes? There is no good or principled answer to this. If Israel thinks that Iran (a) might quickly develop a nuclear bomb and (b) use it against Israel, any outcome that leaves a substantial Iranian civil nuclear programme intact is potentially dangerous.

To this extent Iran has achieved a key success in this war of nerves, by winning explicit acknowledgement of its right to nuclear energy and associated technology. Israel now finds itself in a new balance of Security and Risk: having to live with a civil nuclear Iran that is never far from speedy weaponization but, thanks to those busy IAEA inspections, never quite gets there.

In short, an elegant and interesting outcome that shows how patient diplomacy and associated pressure play out over months and years to achieve results. In this case the UK with France and Germany have given the European Union an unusually sharp and united position that Cathy Ashton as EU High Representative has guilefully developed. So has the new energy brought by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who evinced a gritty willingness to get stuck in to these and other grim problems after the wasted years of Earth Mother feminist Hillary Clinton floating blandly above it all.

Yes yes, this all very well. But what about Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who will hugely resent this new US cosying up to Tehran and fear that the hated Iranian view of the Middle East is now re-empowered? How will this legitimisation of Iran affect the turmoil in Syria and instability in Iraq? Isn’t Washington just solving one problem at the expense of aggravating others?

Maybe. But that’s how these things work. In diplomacy you do what you can do, when you can do it.

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