LONDON— International officials involved in negotiating the preliminary agreement with Iran on its nuclear program say it is the first step toward guaranteeing that Iran is nuclear weapons-free thus making the world a safer place.
But that would also potentially create a sanctions-free Iranian economy potentially enabling Iran to use other elements of its power more extensively.
Feeling the burden
Before the sanctions, Iran's economy was growing at about six percent a year. Now it is shrinking, as the sanctions cost it five billion dollars a month.
Feeling the burden of these measures, Iran's people elected the relatively moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, as president, with a mandate to end the sanctions. And his foreign minister was greeted as a hero when he returned from the talks.
"The greatest benefit will be peace, the message of peace," said one Iranian woman. "And the economy is also important. We will see progress in every field."
Point of pride
But that means giving up much of the nuclear program, a huge point of pride for many Iranians.
In the end, Iran's leaders may have decided to trade away the potential to build a weapon that made them international pariahs and whose highly destructive force and global revulsion would have made difficult to use.
In return, they could get a weapon they can use - a stronger economy and more resources to funnel to their allies, including the Iraqi government, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The main priority will be to ensure that the economic issue doesn't become a risk in terms of stability," said Iran analyst Torbjorn Soltvedt of the Maplecroft risk assessment firm. "But obviously an economically stronger Iran, you could see it play a more active regional role.”
Although not as dangerous as a nuclear weapon, a more active intervention policy would still cause concern for Iran's adversaries in the region and in the West.
But a final nuclear accord, due in six months, could improve Iran's international relations and make what Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group calls its “forward defense policy” less important.
“A nuclear agreement can reduce Iran's threat perception," Vaez said. "It will have less motivation to support groups in the region that could basically serve as a way of extending conflict away from its borders.”
That is an optimistic scenario, and it suggests what former British ambassador to Iran, Richard Dalton, thinks is a broad strategic decision by Iran's leaders.
“I believe that this Iranian leadership, including the Supreme Leader, has realized that the Iranian state, and the Iranian people, cannot prosper, and the future of the Islamic Republic cannot be secure, if there is no accommodation with the West on the nuclear program,” Dalton said.
Iran has worked hard over many years and at great expense to build its nuclear program. Iranian leaders say the program is for peaceful purposes, like energy and research. Now, if they prove it to the international community, they could get their economy back, opening the opportunity for better, or worse, international relations.