Iran Nuclear Framework Agreement: A Historical Step?

5 avril 2015
Le point de vue de Thierry Coville
A framework agreement was signed on the night of April 2nd to April 3rd in Lausanne between the P5+1 and Iran after eigth days of intense negotiations. Can we expect the sanctions to be lifted soon?

The next step will be to transpose this framework deal in detail. This step will not necessarily be more technical than the one that has just ended since intense negotiations between the different parties are still expected. Even if the major lines have been decided, it will probably not be easier to finalize the agreement and the talks will maintain their intensity. Each side will again try to gain the upper hand. Nevertheless, they have come a long way and it now seems impossible that either party runs the risk of questioning the agreement that has just been signed by backing out of the negotiations. In theory, it is very likely that a definitive deal will be found by the end of June.
If it is actually happening, some of the French and American bilateral sanctions should be revoked as soon as the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran respects its commitments (which can take up to six months). On the American side, there still is the problem of sanctions, voted in by Congress, that can only be suspended by Barack Obama and then cancelled by the Congress itself. There is an uncertainty about the results of the 2016 presidential elections. If the future president of the United States were to decide to not suspend the sanctions, the deal with Iran would fall through. This procedure is wholly dependent on the American Constitution, thus Barack Obama cannot do anything about it. On the other hand, if the deal is respected, a refusal to lift the sanctions seems hardly justifiable no matter the political orientation of the future president or the sitting majority in Congress.

There is also the problem posed by the United Nations sanctions. The Iranians wanted theses sanctions to be lifted immediately for symbolic reasons. It has thus been decided that a new Security Council resolution will be issued with the Joint Plan of Action (decided in Lausanne) which will put an end to all the previous resolutions about nuclear power, and will include some restrictive measures for a period of time that is mutually accepted. This means that even though the majority of the UN sanctions will be cancelled, some restrictive measures such as the ones regarding dual nuclear technologies will be temporarily maintained.

The positive result of these eight day long negotiations, aimed at resolving the twelve year old Iranian case, has provoked all kinds of reactions. All the negotiators claim to be very satisfied, except for France and Federica Mogherini (head of European diplomacy) who remain more cautious. How would you explain the behavior of France during the negotiations and the hard stance it has chosen to adopt?

It is true that there is a notable contrast between the American reaction and the French one. This agreement is wholly positive and concerns a case that has been poisoning international relations since at least 2002. Looking at the content of the agreement, it must be noted that both parties have made compromises. In this regard, the French attitude is questionable. Their explanations are always the same. I think that a neo-conservative line has appeared under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy and unfortunately continues to exist under François Hollande. This, to me, seems regrettable. Moreover, this behavior can further be explained by our commercial and strategic ties with Saudi Arabia and, obviously, because of our historical relations with Israel.

France shares the same concern as many other states, avoiding nuclear proliferation in the Middle-East, but the French strategy does not seem to be up to the stakes. Many people agree on the fact that stability in the Middle-East depends on solving this crisis and on the reinsertion of Iran in the regional diplomatic game. The resumption of a dialogue between the United States and Iran is very important.
It is regrettable that France did not have any political vision. France has a short-term and far too technical vision. The Iranian society has known a great modernization since the revolution and this agreement will bring a breath of fresh air. It will foster the Iranian moderate forces and can give to its civil society a little bit more political and economic weight. This is not only positive for Iran but also for the whole region. Much as France played a role of mediator in 2002-2003 when the three French, British and German Ministers of Foreign Affairs -respectively Dominique de Villepin, Jack Straw and Joschka Fisher- negotiated with Teheran, it is now playing the role of the “hard” one and I think this weakens our influence in Iran. Even though it is not the most important aspect, I hope it will not penalize us at the economic level since it is obvious that this position can reduce the chances of French companies winning important contracts during the negotiations with Iran.

Many scenes of jubilation have taken place in Iran after the announcement of this agreement which could, over time, reintegrate Iran into the international community. What about the internal debate about this file on the Iranian side? Can this agreement be considered as a victory of the moderates over the radicals?

Hassan Rohani was elected because of an electoral program claiming his will to solve the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations in order to lift the sanctions. This agreement is clearly a victory for Rohani and the political line he stood for. The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is also accountable for this victory.
That being said, it is important to understand that things are not so simple in Iran. There is indeed a serious political struggle inside the country between moderate forces and more radical ones. The latter ones have absolutely no intention to give up. The radicals will certainly try to do everything they can to restrict the impact of this victory. For instance, they chose to elect a radical as president of the Assembly of experts which has the mission of electing a new guide were the current one to disappear. The radicals also control the Parliament. I think that they will do everything they can to block Rohani’s attempts to make reforms in matters of economy and possibly in the field of human rights. It is very likely that the political struggle will keep going on in Iran and Rohani is perfectly aware of that.

Unfortunately, the success of the reforms will depend on Rohani’s political acumen -which is plentiful- to, at the same time, impose his point of view while circumventing the obstacles he will face. The Guide will certainly have a decisive role in this political struggle. He directly took part in the nuclear talks and this involvement is very positive. However, Ali Khamenei still has a very conservative political position. It is thus very unlikely that he will support Rohani in his attempts to open Iran economically and politically.

Translated by Emilia Capitaine and Elie Khoury, students at IRIS Sup’.
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