The recent diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and the P5+1 nations, over the contentious Iranian nuclear program and its suspected activities of building nuclear weapons, has the potential to change landscape of global strategic landscape with far reaching impact on the global non-proliferation regime. The current agreement is for a limited duration i.e. six months only.
Iran has committed to limit its uranium enrichment activities and convert its stockpile of already 20% enriched uranium into low-enriched uranium during period of next six month. Iran has also agreed to allow IAEA enhanced monitoring of its nuclear activities. While, in return, P5+1 countries have agreed not to impose further embargos during this period, easing of selected sanctions and allowing Iran to use 7 billion dollars of its frozen assets.
Through this agreement United States, along with rest of members of P5+1, recognized Iran’s right to pursue civil nuclear energy programme and enrich low-grade uranium as it was entitled by the Articles IV and V of the NPT. Iranian position has, in fact been vindicated by this interim agreement.
Moreover, from the nuclear non-proliferation perspective, this agreement is positive start because there is an imposition of temporary freeze on Iran’s enrichment capability to 5 % which is low enriched uranium. If there is a permanent agreement concluded within the year then the danger of horizontal nuclear proliferation will be subsided.
Moreover, during the course of talks that led to interim agreement, United States engaged directly with Iranian negotiators to understand their perspective. This was a significant change from the earlier American policy of not engaging with Tehran directly, and forcing Iran to accept US terms through multi-lateral talks. The bilateral negotiations were the driving force behind the earlier multi-lateral dialogue between Iran and P5+1 group, which had produced a significant agreement that to the satisfaction of both the negotiating parties.
Beyond the nuclear issue, the prospects of enhanced cooperation between Iran and United States on issues pertaining to Middle East, Central Asia, Afghanistan and South Asia is likely to materialize. It is important to mention here that despite the rhetoric on both sides of axis of evil, and Death to America, United States and Iran have been covertly cooperating on stabilizing US led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This deal has opened up the prospects of negotiations that address a range of other regional and international security issues that are at the bottom of strained relations between the two states. Iran has emerged as an important regional stakeholder, and when this development is linked with wider geo-political happenings in Middle East and beyond and in particular Syria and Afghanistan, significance of Iran for bringing stability in the volatile regions multiplies.
Both United States and Iran have strategic convergence of interests for the settlement of Syrian conflict as both seek swift resolution of Syrian civil war, with weakening of radical extremist groups that has dominated the Syrian uprisings are perceived to be threatening regional security and stability.
Beyond Middle East, the normalization between Iran and United States also has the potential to impact evolving Afghan peace process and post-2014 Afghanistan. Iran has significant sphere of influence in Afghanistan among Tajik and Hazara communities and its future role will also impact final settlement of Afghan war.
For Pakistan, stabilizing (or destabilizing) the future role of Iran in Afghanistan will be a major consideration. The convergence of interests between New Delhi, Tehran and Washington for post-2014 Afghanistan is likely to increase; as cooperation between these three on common interests is not the function of Geneva agreement between Iran and the West only. This has been the situation in Afghanistan since the Bonn conference of 2001.
Islamabad should remain skeptical of India-Iran-US cooperative axis as it has the potential to counter balance Pakistan’s own political position in the region. While the promise of enhancing energy cooperation between Iran and South Asia remains, the political and strategic considerations regarding respective states interests regarding the region might put this promise on hold to say the least.