Last year marked a thaw in the tense relations between Iran and the West, with the election of a somewhat more moderate president in the form of Hassan Rouhani. The English-educated cleric was elected on a platform of improving relations with the West, as economic sanctions implemented over Iran’s refusal to end its nuclear programme have crippled Iran’s economy and severely restricted growth. Iran later entered negotiations with the West to end sanctions over its nuclear programme, but so the negotiations have not produced a final agreement.
A temporary deal is currently in place, under which Iran has agreed to stop enriching ‘medium grade’ or 20% purity uranium, which could easily be enriched to weapons grade material. Weapons inspectors will also be allowed greater access to its nuclear sites and development will be halted at a plant believed to be capable of producing plutonium. In return western countries will not apply any new nuclear-related sanctions for the next 6 years. The country will also receive approximately £4.3 billion of sanctions relief in a number of sectors if it abides by the terms of the agreement. This is intended to be the precursor to a full deal.
Both Iran and the US have claimed responsibility for the creation of this temporary agreement. The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Jawad Zarif, described the accord as ‘a removal of any doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme’.
However, this deal was only achieved after a series of top secret face to face talks between Iran and the US in addition to the official talks on the agreement featuring the ‘P5+1’ group of countries (The US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany). These top secret meetings are reported to have been kept secret even from US allies and conducted in a variety of locations including Oman, where it is thought the Omani Sultan Kaboos acted as a mediator and played a key role in the negotiation.
Despite this additional level of negotiation, Iran has been constantly accused both by the Americans and other western powers involved in the negotiations of failing to offer enough concessions, though a temporary deal has now been reached. However, with so many stumbling points in the preliminary negotiations is it difficult to envisage how a comprehensive final deal may ever be achieved, especially with the recent demands of Ayatollah Al Khameni, Iran’s Supreme Leader, that the West must lift all sanctions in order to have any prospect of achieving a deal.
This has led critics of the deal on the American side to condemn the US government impression that sanctions would be lifted in phases as ‘delusional’, due to the marked difference from the Iranian impression of the process. Congress will also soon vote on a bill which will give them the final say instead of the Obama administration, meaning that any final deal will be voted on and reviewed before the house makes any decision on whether to suspend sanctions, potentially risking the collapse of the entire negotiation process.