Somewhat quietly last Thursday, several days after the expiry of an arbitrary deadline which had been set for the finalization of an agreement on the future of Iran’s nuclear capability, a deal was announced. There was rejoicing on the streets of Teheran, ominous rumblings of discontent in Jerusalem and Riyadh, a touch of triumphalism in Washington, and near silence in London, Paris and Berlin.
After all the conditioning we had received from the spokespeople and pundits it was probably impossible for there to have been any other outcome. So much ego had been invested on both sides of the table that to announce a failure or a deadlock would have shown up all the politicians involved as incompetent.
But delving into the details of the deal produces a welter of uncertainty and vagueness, which even the parties involved accept still has to be negotiated and agreed. These details include many time scales, the details of the rights of impartial observers to oversee and enforce the conditions, and the method and speed of the lifting of sanctions currently imposed on Iran by the P5+1 in return for Iranian concessions.
Of course the sticking points have not simply been generated by disputes between the 2 sides, but within each side. For example, negotiators on the Russian team have consistently refused to agree to the ‘snapback’ conditions demanded by the other members of the Western team; snapback is where the result of a breach by one side immediately triggers a reversal of any concessions made by the other side (in this case a breach by Iran triggering the re-imposition of economic sanctions by the West). And on the Iranian side we have not yet seen Ayatollah Khameini, the real powerhouse in Iran, give any indication of his acceptance of the outline deal, never mind the detail.
Reports of the deal, although potentially of global importance, were kept off the Friday front pages in the UK by the coverage of a lackluster debate between political party leaders the previous evening as part of the upcoming elections. Plus the massacre of nearly 150 Christian students in Kenya, and the invasion of Yemen by a coalition of Arab states trying to wrest power from the Iranian backed Houti rebels who now control parts of the country.
So whilst the egos of those involved in the negotiations might have been satisfied, the rest of the world recognizes that the deal proclaimed in fact isn’t a deal at all; it is not even a frame agreement or a statement of intent. There is much work still to be done, and much of the world is skeptical that the outstanding details can, or even should, be resolved whilst the region continues in turmoil.
As they say, watch this space.