As the long awaited, and for some, dreaded, nuclear agreement with Iran unfolds, the media and general public appear centered around one particular debate: Iran’s true intentions. The discussion focuses on whether or not Iran is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, and whether or not the country can reasonably be expected to attempt a nuclear attack on Israel within the coming years. There are advocates for both sides of the coin. Yes, Iran has peaceful intentions; it hasn’t actually used force against another state in decades. Or no, Iran does not have peaceful intentions; it fooled the world before, and will do so again. In all of these discussions, it seems that people have actually forgotten why the deal was initiated in the first place.
Historically, negotiations began after it was discovered that Iran had failed to declare certain nuclear facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In fear that the country was secretly creating a nuclear bomb, the world powers made an attempt to thwart this process. In their opinion, the best way to tempt Iran into abandoning, or at least slowing down, their plans to secure nuclear weapons, was to relieve some of the sanctions that had had their toll on the Iranian economy. Now, as the agreement has been concluded, the P5+1 boast about how this is the best method to ensure that Iran does not produce nuclear weapons, at least within the next ten years.
Knowing this history, it is interesting that the debate has taken the direction it has. The issue was never about Iran’s potential peaceful intentions, but rather about how it could be persuaded to stall its un-peaceful intentions. Indeed, if Iran had peaceful intentions with its nuclear program, a deal, especially one offering billions of dollars to Iran upon conclusion would never have been necessary. We would never see a deal being struck with France or Japan, that have more than forty operating nuclear reactors, offering them billions of dollars just to “make sure” they don’t decide to create a nuclear bomb.
No, not even the initiators of this deal believe that Iran has peaceful intentions. Neither can they believe that this deal has sparked peaceful intentions where there previously were none. If you read the statements of the P5+1 and listen to their comments, what they are essentially concluding is that Iran decided to abandon all plans for a nuclear bomb because they offered to decrease the sanctions they placed on the country, if it did so. Well, according to the US Department of State, “[i]n response to Iran’s continued illicit nuclear activities, the United States and other countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions to censure Iran and prevent its further progress in prohibited nuclear activities, as well as to persuade Tehran to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.”
The sanctions were placed on Iran to persuade it to stop building a nuclear bomb. Therefore, even before the deal, Iran had a standing offer to stop producing nuclear weapons in return for relieved sanctions. It did not take the offer. In fact, it kept on with its illicit nuclear activities to the point at which the world powers realized it could have access to a bomb within a few months’ time. At this point, they decided it was necessary to strike a deal. A deal that simply offers in more direct terms exactly that which the imposition of economic sanctions always did. I ask, if relieving sanctions really would work to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear activities, why was it necessary to enter into this deal in the first place?
It seems to me improbable that the renewed deal will in any way serve to alter Iran’s intentions. Iran has already shown that the possibility of relieved sanctions does not do the trick. To me, this looks like a win-win situation for Iran. Everything remains the same, except now it doesn’t even have to deal with a diminished economy. Only time will tell, but I, for one, will be very surprised if this story develops differently than expected.