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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 50, November 30, 2013

The Iran Deal: Enlightening the Global Picture

Sunday 1 December 2013, by Uttam Sen


The détente in Iran may appear unreal, if for no other reason than India so providentially gaining with the hope of uninterrupted oil supplies to check prices and curb inflation. Providence appears too timely to be true. There are other benefits like the reduction of India’s import bill and the easing of foreign exchange pressure. India will be able to buy more Iranian crude and Indian companies can renew stalled projects. Additionally, the India-Pakistani gas pipeline will get a fresh lease of life.

By the interim agreement signed in Geneva on November 24 between Iran, the US, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany, the Iranians will refrain from operating about 9000 first generation centrifuges that are enriching uranium and halt the installation of new centrifuges. Teheran will now be a month or two away from manufacturing highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. Without the deal Iran would have been able to produce one in days, if it maintained its current rate of progress over another year. Iran also agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its facilities for the assembly and storage of centrifuges. It will stop construction of its Arak heavy water reactor that could have yielded weapons usable plutonium. In return Iran will get $ 7 billion in sanctions relief.

Geopolitically the setting could signal a turn of the dice from the situation in which Pakistan brokered the Sino-American thaw. The chain reaction divided the Communist bloc as China and Russia openly confronted each other across the Ussuri. Pakistan benefited from its former Foreign Minister and then President, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, engendering the Sino-American-Pakistani axis, a seemingly droll outcome between unlikely parties that included the West’s Cold War adversary, China, a Republican American President, and a volatile lawyer sworn to the acquisition of the Islamic bomb. Even today, a descendant of the Central Eastern Treaty Organisation (CENTO) alliance that was meant to buffer communism in Asia is China’s strategic partner alongside Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam. (Significantly, the other CENTO associates were, other than Turkey, and the UK, Iraq and Iran.) People in their own robust way have fought by their convictions rather than the doctrine to which they do not relate, either internally or externally. India has admittedly not played quite the matching role in Iran, but has stoutly espoused the logic of cooperation, arguably one factor behind the bandwagon effect that delivered the deal.

A potential regional realignment could mean much. The US has played a political master-stroke in its battle against Sunni Wahhabi-led fundamentalism, now that both Iraq and Iran are in Shia hands. The Wahhabi home of Saudi Arabia, along with, of course, Israel, have been strategically cut down to size. Not that these two traditionally conservative, resourceful and skilful near allies will be easily done in. Though the fine print of the deal suggests that their fears have been allayed, they will extract their pound of flesh in due course. But the first stone towards a West Asian transformation may have also been cast. It is more the hidebound style of political leaderships than the people in these two distinctive countries that are at stake and like the dramatic turnarounds that have distinguished geopolitics, its calibration to a changing order of things should not be ruled out. Conservative Western opinion, almost in spite of itself, is now hailing the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize as a worthy laureate. For India, the blow to an impending (Sunni) Taliban-led Afghanistan will signify a welcome regional multipolarity.

But there is more than is clearly revealed to the mind immediately. The Indian-American in the US President’s office has said that the deal will set the tone for poverty-alleviation in lieu of exorbitant face-offs. Taken with the earlier agreement in Syria the Iranian breakthrough lends credence to such optimism. But most promisingly, an American President bound by a national (and Allied) mandate that takes its global primacy as read, can also add up to a world that sees the need for a shift in modus operandi. This is probably no more than a response in line with the foundational Enlightenment values that emphasised the use of reason to scrutinise previously accepted doctrines or traditions and ring in humanitarian reform (missing for some time in the past). Most parties have been trying to do so despite divergent interests. For all the cynicism, latter-day facilitation of global discourse is enabling people to read between the lines and find meaning in the “other”. Now that they are converging at the negotiating table, the fear of irreality can be removed from an equation that has begun to unravel and lead to a sense of expectation universally.

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist.

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