News / Middle East

West Prepares to Ease Iran Sanctions

Henry Ridgwell
A temporary deal agreed to in November between world powers and Iran regarding its nuclear program comes into force Monday. It’s seen as a stepping-stone to a broader agreement on the future of the program, which many Western countries believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons - a charge Iran has long denied.

The interim deal between Iran and the six world powers known as the P5+1 (the U.S., U.K., Russia, China, France and Germany) will see Tehran freeze high-level uranium enrichment for six months. In return, the West will end some of the sanctions against Iran worth an estimated $7 billion.

Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Iran wants to make the deal work, and therefore will allow inspectors in.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has people in Iran almost every day, will be able to go to the declared facilities, count centrifuges, and know exactly whether or not Iran is meeting its obligations under the deal,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick pointed out that the deal is not eliminating or even rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, but rather is capping it at its current status.

“It could go down the path of a nuclear weapon with what it has today and it might get there after three months, or four months, or six months; during which time action [against Iran] would be taken. What this deal does is at least freeze that period of time so that the time doesn’t get shorter,” explained Fitzpatrick.

Opponents of the deal - including Israel - have urged Western governments not to ease any sanctions until Iran begins to dismantle its nuclear program.

British upper house lawmaker Norman Lamont, who has just returned from Tehran on a visit looking at restoring London’s diplomatic relations with Iran, thinks the West retains a strong hand.

“I don’t believe the West has given anything away that can’t be reversed. And I think we’ve added to the so-called break-out time that it would require to have in order to construct a nuclear weapon,” said Lamont.

Relations between Iran and the West have thawed since Hassan Rouhani won the presidency last year, but many analysts caution that the reins of power really lie with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is the one who will ultimately decide the future course of any comprehensive agreement.

Others, such as Lamont, disagree with that analysis.

“One has to ask oneself, ‘Is the power really in the hands of government?’ And there are several centers of power within the Iranian regime. But my view is that they have decided they would wish to do a nuclear deal and I think they just about have the power to deliver it,” said Lamont.

The breathing space created by the deal is crucial, according to Mark Fitzpatrick.

“The aim of these next six months is to work toward a comprehensive deal that would provide the world with greater confidence that Iran would not be able to rush for a nuclear weapon,” said Fitzpatrick.

Some U.S. lawmakers want to impose further sanctions on Iran over the nuclear program, but analysts say any such measures would likely sink the interim deal and trigger retaliation by Tehran.

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