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Near historic relaxation

New nuclear agreement in Iran. Next battle in Washington. Success in the negotiations can be crucial for a region in crisis.


Cautious but pronounced optimism. That was the message from US President Barack Obama when he at the press conference last Thursday launched the framework for a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program. The agreement was signed in overtime after the latest in a long series of negotiations in the Swiss cities of Geneva and Lausanne, between Iran on the one hand, and with the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China as counterparts. "It is a good deal… Iran has accepted the most robust and comprehensive inspection and surveillance regime ever negotiated," US President Barack Obama said during a news conference. With the agreement, the negotiating parties pave the way for a final agreement, which will come during July. In Tehran, the agreement is also seen as a significant victory. The country's chief negotiator and foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has promised that the UN sanctions against the country will end immediately after a new agreement is in place by the summer – in exchange for Iran accepting more comprehensive monitoring of its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear program. as well as conversion of reactors that can be used to extract plutonium pure enough for nuclear weapons. The agreement has great symbolic value, according to the American analyst Peter Beinart. In a commentary in the liberal magazine The Atlantic, he draws lines to the disarmament agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987: "Barack Obama is now about to end the United States' small, but still terrible, cold war with Iran," Beinart writes. Relaxation can now make Iran the most important player in a region in crisis.

"If an agreement comes into place this summer, it will also mean a new era for Iran" Sverre Lodgaard

Historic. The world community's reactions to the new development on Maundy Thursday have been overwhelmingly positive, and many internationally renowned experts share the US President's view of the agreement. Sverre Lodgaard, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy (NUPI) has followed the negotiations closely, and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. "In general, the agreement has more substance than expected, and with that, the parties have documented a strong political will to agree," Lodgaard told Ny Tid. He emphasized that the reaction to the agreement had been very positive, emphasizing the historical significance of the United States and Iran agreeing on the nuclear issue: "Now the enmity that has characterized the relationship between the two since the Iranian revolution in 1979 can be overcome, and Obama can enter the history books with a kind of mini-version of Richard Nixon's opening against China in 1972. If an agreement comes into place this summer, it will also mean a new era for Iran, which will thus come out of isolation, "Lodgaard believes. There was long concern about whether conservative forces in Iran could prevent an agreement that placed significant ties on the country's nuclear capacity. Following the agreement, considerable dissatisfaction has also been registered in the country's conservative wing. In an editorial in the conservative newspaper Kayhan, it is argued that Iran has received far less than what they have had to sacrifice. However, economic downturns and the damage of a prolonged isolation and sanctions regime have led Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, determined to reach an agreement with the United States and other global powers. This is despite the fact that it can strengthen the moderate forces in the country, of which President Hassan Rouhani is considered a representative. "Fundamentalists do not want people to believe that moderate and pro – reform politicians are preventing a major crisis," Mohammad Javadi Hesar, one of Iran's more outspoken and liberal politicians, told the news agency. On the defensive. So the biggest obstacles to a new deal are not the conservatives in Iran, but their antagonists in Washington and Jerusalem. The most important remaining issue in the negotiations is the sanctions the US and the EU have maintained in recent years. These are far more extensive than the UN sanctions, and impose, among other things, major restrictions on the country's oil exports. However, these sanctions must be eased through a resolution in the US Senate, with the Republican Party now having a majority. During the negotiations, several leading Republicans have tried to undermine the possibility of a deal. However, Sverre Lodgaard believes that the recently signed agreement will make it difficult for the Senate to reject the rapprochement process. "The opponents were probably taken to bed a bit when the deal became known," Lodgaard says. First signs from Washington's elected officials point to a cautious collaboration with Barack Obama's plans. On Friday, April 3, the Senate introduced a new planned sanctions package against Iranian authorities. "But a resolution by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which requires the Senate to approve the agreement, is currently only three votes from a 2/3 majority," Lodgaard said. However, the Western and American approach to Iran has one unequivocal critic: Israel's recently re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Sunday, April 5, he visited the leading US news magazines and slaughtered the agreements. "After a couple of years, Iran will have unlimited opportunities to expand its nuclear infrastructure," Netanyahu told CNN. Earlier in March, the Israeli prime minister was invited to the US Congress by the Republican leadership. There, he spoke Obama in the opposite, and strongly warned against going ahead in negotiations with Iran. The speech led to a very cool mood between the White House and Netanyahu, but the events of the weekend showed that the Israeli government has not given up its attempts to influence American opinion. Netanyahu has broad support in his own ranks, but also in the Israeli opposition. Just after details of the deal became known last Thursday, the Zionist Union, the largest opposition party in Israel, issued a press release criticizing the outcome of the negotiations, according to the Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post.

"Iran may in the longer term prove to be a more reliable ally for the United States than Saudi Arabia" Peter Beinart

New opportunities. Despite opposition from both US elected officials and the Israeli political elite, a better relationship with Iran can solve many problems for the US government. Namely, Shiite Iran holds the key to several of the crises that are now affecting the Middle East. In the fight against the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State, the authorities of Tehran can play a key role. When relations between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the United States split last summer, Iran's acceptance was important for a change of ministerial pressure. Iran also has a role in the wars in Syria and Yemen, supporting the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, and the Houthi militia, which in recent weeks have been fighting an international alliance led by Saudi Arabia. The fear of Sunni Muslim extremist groups and growing power for Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional arch rival, is partly the reason why Washington and Tehran stand on both sides in the ongoing wars. An approach between the two countries can lead to a solution to several of the most violent conflicts in the region.

"In the longer term, Iran may prove to be a more reliable ally for the United States than Saudi Arabia," says Peter Beinart, a professor at City University in New York.

Another Iran expert, Gary Sick at Columbia University, also thinks a US-Iran approach could be good news for the Iranian population. When Rouhani was elected president in 2013, many hoped for better times for the country, both politically and economically. So far this has not been the case, but Sick believes that greater openness to the world and more economic activity with the West can contribute to political reform. "If you want regime changes in Iran, understood as changes in the way the Iranian regime behaves, such a deal is the best way to reach the goal," Sick told The New York Times. A final agreement can thus be ready in July. "But if negotiations break down because Obama fails to meet expectations of sanctions relief due to Congress, then China, Russia and others could normalize their economic relations with Iran," Lodgaard concludes.

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