By Rebecca Emrick
Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the relationship between the United States and Iran has been rocky at best. One aspect of the rocky relationship between the two countries has been Iran’s nuclear program. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which was ratified in 1970 was created in order to outline that “countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear technology.” According to the NPT, all countries are allowed to use nuclear capabilities, but only for peaceful purposes, such as energy production. However, states are not allowed to acquire nuclear capabilities past the point of peaceful purposes because that would mean that these nations could create nuclear weapons. Iran has not signed onto this treaty, and therefore didn’t formally commit to pursuing purely peaceful nuclear capabilities. Furthermore, in 2003 there was evidence that Iran had pursued and successfully created enriched uranium past what is needed for peaceful applications. However, Iran claimed that their enrichment of uranium was and has stayed at peaceful levels and that the evidence brought before the International Atomic Energy Agency was fabricated because they claimed that “the source of the uranium is imported equipment.”
Despite the circumstantial evidence that Iran was enriching uranium past peaceful uses, the U.S. Department of State has stated that “in response to Iran’s continued illicit nuclear activities, the United States and other countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions” in order to “prevent its further progress in prohibited nuclear activities, as well as to persuade Tehran to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.” Although these were not the first sanctions ever imposed on Iran by the U.S., the Iranian government and economy has nonetheless felt the economic pressure. According to the World Bank “the business environment [in Iran] remains a challenge with the country ranking 130th out of the 189 countries surveyed in the 2015 Doing Business Report” Iran’s private sector isn’t as successful as it should be for being the second largest economy in the Middle East. Iran is being economically challenged by the sanctions being imposed on them in the private sector because private businesses are extremely limited with regard to whom they can do business with.
On the other hand, Iran has seen economic growth from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2014 “as a result of the temporary and partial easing of sanctions imposed on Iran’s oil exports.” As a result of some sanctions being lifted from Iran, their overall economic growth has almost doubled in one year. This is no easy feat, and it shows that the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran greatly affect their economy. So if Iran’s economy has nearly doubled in the last year, why would they want to work with the U.S. to lift more sanctions? A big ticket economic problem that Iran faces is unemployment. In Iran “unemployment remains elevated and is expected to be a central challenge for the government”, which gives the Iranian Government motivation to work toward some kind of nuclear agreement with the U.S. in order to lift further sanctions in the hope of creating more jobs for Iranian citizens.
On Jan. 21, 2015 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that the U.S. “still [has] a credible chance of reaching a deal that is in the best interest of America’s security, as well as the security of our allies” which was the first time that the U.S. had publicly stated that it was in its own national interest to cooperate and work with Iran on some kind of nuclear arrangement. Since then, the U.S. and Iranian diplomats have come to a preliminary agreement (the deal isn’t sealed until the end of June) which was made available to the Ayatollah Khamenei. Unfortunately the Ayatollah’s reaction to the nuclear deal has been less than satisfactory. For example, in a press conference in Tehran the Ayatollah demanded that economic sanctions be lifted as soon as the negotiations’ final papers were signed and that military sites were completely off limits to foreign inspectors and inquiries. These are two sticking points for the U.S. It is important to both President Obama and John Kerry that the U.S. lifts the economic sanctions on Iran gradually so that they are able to ensure that Iran has been “[complying] with its obligations” to reduce its stockpile of uranium so that they cannot enrich it for nuclear weapons. Additionally, most nuclear sites are also military bases, so if no inspectors were allowed in those facilities than there could be no guarantee that Iran was “following through on their commitment to vastly reduce their uranium stockpile.”
The Obama Administration is also facing criticism from the GOP, and their disbelief that Iran will continue to enrich uranium at levels that are in compliance for peaceful purposes. John Boehner has publicly stated that “it would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region.” Members of the GOP are reluctant to allow a deal with Iran to go forward because they are skeptical that Iran will hold up their end of the bargain and enrich uranium at the appropriate levels for peaceful purposes. John Boehner also invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to congress where he expressed concern over the deal with Iran and said in a statement “this is a bad deal — a very bad deal”. John Boehner wanted to invite Netanyahu to Congress to speak in order to show how this nuclear deal would affect Israel, a long standing ally of the U.S. Were Iran to go back on their agreement with the U.S., a nuclear armed Iran would be a large threat in the Middle East weapons and would most likely trigger an arms race in the Middle East. Iran and Israel are known for having an extremely tense relationship, so if Iran were to have nuclear weapons, one can assume that it would push their relationship over the edge. Boehner and the GOP wanted to use Netanyahu’s speech in order to show Obama what could go wrong if the U.S. decided to go through with a nuclear deal with Iran.
In Iran, the Ayatollah claims that he neither supports nor opposes the nuclear negotiations, he did end his speech saying that he “has never been optimistic about negotiations with America” which implies that he may be leaning away from supporting any kind of nuclear deal with the U.S. Although the President of Iran is directly elected by the people of Iran, it is the Ayatollah that has the final say in political matters. If the Ayatollah doesn’t agree with or support a bill, then the bill won’t pass. It will be important to take into consideration what the Ayatollah wants from these nuclear talks in order for the talks to be ultimately successful.
Image by the U.S. Department of State