IRAN’S NUCLEAR DEAL AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

FEB 9

Mains   > International relations   >   India and Global Regions   >   India & West Asia

IN NEWS:

  • As indirect American-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 international nuclear deal entered the final stretch in Vienna, the USA restored some sanctions waivers to Iran that enable foreign companies to work with Iran's civilian nuclear installations.

IRAN’S & NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY:

  • Iran's interest in nuclear technology dates to the 1950s, when the Shah of Iran received technical assistance under the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. The assistance ended with the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
  • But Iran remained interested in nuclear technology and signed long-term cooperation agreements with Pakistan and China.
  • In 1995, Russia announced that it would complete one of Iran’s nuclear power plant’s construction and agreed to build three additional reactors.
  • Subsequently, Iran developed enrichment capabilities, which became the subject of intense international negotiations and sanctions between 2002 and 2015.
  • U.S. intelligence agencies have long suspected Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for weapons development.
  • Numerous reports of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed strong indicators of possible nuclear weapon development.

WHY THE CONCERN?

  • Destabilizes Middle East:
    • Iran's military posture has led to increases in arms purchases by its neighbors such as Saudi Arabia. A nuclear-armed Iran would likely spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would further destabilize the volatile and vital region.
  • Threat to global peace:
    • Iran already has conventional weapons capability to hit U.S. and allied troops stationed in the Middle East and parts of Europe. If Tehran were allowed to develop nuclear weapons, the threat it poses would increase dramatically.
  • Against US interests:
    • A nuclear-armed Iran poses a direct threat to America's allies in the Middle East, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia. Also, Iran’s nuclear power could reduce US’s influence over the middle east.
  • Affects global economy:
    • The stability of global economy remains heavily dependent on the steady export of oil from the Middle East. Any threat from Iran can create severe volatility in the oil market and in the international markets.
  • Nuclear power in terrorist hands:
    • Iran is known to provide financial and operational support for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran could even potentially share its nuclear technology and know-how with extremist groups hostile to the United States, Israel and the West.
  • Aids extremist groups:
    • A nuclear-armed Iran would further embolden Iran's aggressive foreign policy, including its support to extremist groups like Hezbollah, its proxy attacks against Israel and its sponsorship of rebel insurgents in Yemen.
  • Lack of trust:
    • Since 2015, Iran has increased its support for regional proxies, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the US has designated a terrorist organisation, has expanded its activities. Hence, there is skepticism among global nations over Iran’s intentions.  
  • Against Indian interests:
    • More than 8 million Indians resided in the Persian Gulf as of 2015, making them vulnerable to any escalation of hostilities.

JOINT COMPREHENSIVE PLAN OF ACTION (JCPOA):

  • For years, the major world powers - the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom (known as the "P5+1") - followed a two-track policy:  encouraging Iran to engage in diplomatic negotiations, while imposing increasingly comprehensive sanctions against Iran’s energy and financial sectors. 
  • In 2015, the P5+1 announced the finalization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran over its nuclear program:
    • It enacted measures that would significantly scale back Iran’s nuclear program for a period of 10 to 15 years in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Iran.
    • It focused on eliminating Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium (needed to produce a nuclear weapon), and limiting the number and type of centrifuges Iran could operate.
    • Tehran also agreed to implement a protocol that would allow inspectors from the IAEA to access its nuclear sites.
  • The world powers wanted to restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities to the point that it would take Tehran at least a year to build a weapon, giving them adequate time to prepare and respond. Before the agreement, analysts estimated that Iran had reached a point from where it could build a weapon in approximately three months.
  • But in 2018, then US President Donald Trump announced US withdrawal from the agreement and reimposed strict sanctions against Iran.
  • Since then, Iran ramped up its nuclear programme in earnest, returning to approximately 97 per cent of its pre-2015 nuclear capabilities.
  • The other powers, in an attempt to keep the deal alive, launched a barter system known as INSTEX to facilitate transactions with Iran outside the US banking system. However, INSTEX only covered food and medicine.
  • Following the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani in 2020, Iran announced that it will no longer comply with the limits set on uranium enrichment set by the 2015 deal.

INDIA’S POSITION ON THE ISSUE:

  • India’s has always tried to have a delicate balance in maintaining close-knit ties with both Washington and Tehran.
  • India has never supported Iran’s mission to build a nuclear bomb and welcomed the conclusion of the JCPOA, as it greatly benefited India’s oil-dependent economy.
  • India stopped importing oil from Iran in mid-2019 following sanctions on the Persian Gulf nation by the Trump administration.
  • However, the Joe Biden administration has been in support of the JCPOA. Hence, India is hopeful and will look to resume buying crude oil from Iran the moment U.S. sanctions are eased.

Extra reading: India-Iran relations http://www.ilearncana.com/details/INDIA-IRAN-RELATIONS/947

HOW INDIA WILL BENEFIT FROM US REJOINING JCPOA:

  • Oil imports:
    • Prior to US reimposition of sanctions, Iran was India’s third biggest supplier (after Iraq and Saudi Arabia). If the US is to remove the sanctions on Iran, it could greatly benefit India’s oil imports.
  • Benefits Indian investments:
    • US sanctions had a severe impact India’s investment in Iran, like the Chabahar port development. With US rejoining talks with Iran, India can actively promote investments into the country and realize its full benefits.
  • Aligns with India’s strategic interests:
    • Involvements with Iran is crucial for India to circumvent China and Pakistan’s aggressive policies in the Indian Ocean region. Eg: International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which passes through Iran. Strong Iran-P5+1 cooperation can greatly benefit these Indian strategies.  
  • Resolving Afghan issue:
    • Iran, with its long common border and strong political and cultural linkages, is one of the most influential stakeholders in resolving the Afghan crisis. Having a stable Iran can potentially help India execute its goodwill in Afghanistan.
  • Address security concerns:
    • Iran played a major role in countering the advances of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Now, with the rise of the affiliate groups like Islamic State – Khorasan Province, Iran’s stability will be beneficial in keeping terrorism in check.
  • Supports India’s ideology:
    • India has long been a proponent of a “rules-based order” that depends on multilateral consensus and an adherence to commitments made by countries on the international stage. US rejoining the fold strengthens this ideology.
  • Strengthens cooperation with Middle East:
    • In an effort to balance its West Asia policy, India has been seeking to strengthen ties with Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel, who are allies of US and adversaries of Iran. Here, a favourable policy of US can greatly help India’s efforts.  

CONCLUSION:

A restored nuclear deal would not be able to provide the same nuclear non-proliferation benefits since Iran has made significant progress since 2018. However, it is still well worth getting back into the deal.

In the meantime, India needs maintain a cautious optimism and continue the balancing act in West Asia that allows it to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel alike. At the same time, maintaining distance from regional fractures and conflicts would allow India to pursue its economic and geo-strategic aims in the region.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. The revival of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement is of great significance for India. Discuss?