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Iran & US will now join forces against ISIS: Shyam Saran on nuke deal

Devika Bakshi | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:20 IST

As former prime minister Manmohan Singh's pointsperson on the Indo-US nuclear deal, Shyam Saran understands nuclear diplomacy like few others.

As the announcement of the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and the West sparked jubilation, Devika Bakshi asked the former foreign secretary why the agreement is so significant and what it holds for India.

Could you spell out the most significant aspects of the deal? What effectively does it do?

It's an elaborate and detailed agreement comprising 159 pages of text and five annexes.

It is a set of reciprocal commitments which link the lifting of sanctions imposed by the UN, Europe and the US to Iran accepting verifiable limits on its nuclear programme. There is an agreed sequence in which these reciprocal commitments will be implemented.

The net effect: limits will be placed on Iran's nuclear programme to prevent it from fabricating a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years. It will also extend the 'breakout' period for acquiring such a weapon to at least a year even if Iran was to renege on its commitments.

In other words, Iran remains a threshold nuclear weapons state with its capabilities and infrastructure intact, but it has agreed not to cross that threshold for at least 10 years.

The deal is likely to reduce global oil prices by $5-15. That will benefit the Indian economy

In return, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany have agreed to lift economic sanctions on Iran, in step with the International Atomic Energy Agency certifying that Iran is delivering on its side of the bargain.

The sanctions can be "snapped back" if Iran does not deliver on its pledges. The current embargo on conventional arms on Iran will continue for five years and the embargo on ballistic missiles for eight years.

The agreement, however, does not impose any limitations on Iran's existing stock of missiles or their indigenous production.

What are the implications of the deal for Iran, the US and the Middle East at large, particularly, Israel's relationship with Muslim nations?

The deal removes crippling economic sanctions against Iran, opening the door to the revival of economic growth, with some 100 billion dollars in frozen assets being released by international banks for use.

Iran has the world's fourth largest oil reserves and the second largest gas reserves. The deal will enable it to enter the global energy market as a major player. This will undoubtedly increase its geopolitical clout in the region.

For the US, the deal marks a successful diplomatic effort to prevent a possibly ruinous armed conflict in the sensitive West Asian and Gulf region. It may also enable the US to work more actively with Iran to deal with the shared security challenges in the region, particularly the growing salience of the ISIS.

They are already doing this discreetly. The US has also manoeuvred itself into being able to manipulate the balance of power in the region, reducing its dependence on often unreliable and unpredictable allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Iran remains a threshold nuclear weapons state but won't cross the threshold for 10 years

The anxieties the deal has generated in Israel and also the Sunni majority states in the region will probably bring them together in a kind of loose anti- Iran coalition.

To the extent that the focus on an Iranian threat deflects attention from Israel's continuing violation of Palestinian rights and its resistance to a peace settlement with Palestine, this may not be an unwelcome consequence.

The deal is likely to sharpen the Shia-Sunni divide in the region, encourage the Sunni states to discreetly support Sunni fundamentalist groups and, as a result, there could be further turmoil and violence. These trends are already in play, the deal could exacerbate them.

How will this deal affect India's relationship with Iran, in terms of trade, diplomacy and security? What sanctions does India maintain against Iran currently? Will they be scrapped?

India has much to gain from the deal. If it has avoided the specter of violence in our neighbourhood, that is good news for India and for several million of its citizens who live and work in the region.

Furthermore, it may open the way for a strong and enduring energy partnership with Iran, which has been on hold as a result of international sanctions.

India will be able to release about 6.5 million dollars in frozen funds to Iran, resume investment in Iran's oil and gas sectors and buy oil and gas at more economical prices. The deal is likely to reduce global oil prices by $5-15, which will benefit the Indian economy.

Iran and India share an interest in checking the spread of Sunni fundamentalism in our region and have common stakes in the political stability of Afghanistan. This deal will enable much closer cooperation on these shared challenges.

First published: 16 July 2015, 1:23 IST
Devika Bakshi @devikabakshi

Senior correspondent at Catch, Devika specialises in furnishing the office with quality coffee. Previously: staff writer at Open magazine, waitress and student of Comparative Literature. Generally preoccupied with climate change, usually reassured by mid-20th century American music. Loves podcasts and tomatoes. Moonlights as a student of Spanish and is frequently mistaken for an owl.