09.04.2015 Author: Petr Lvov

Who has Championed the Lausanne Nuclear Deal?

45353453Only a few days after the enthusiastic comments and statements about the “historic breakthrough” in Lausanne in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program were over, a bunch of less restrained and balanced assessment has started appearing in the media.

Yet, everyone understands that there is still much work to do in order to draft the final settlement. This was underlined by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Moreover, it became clear that Lausanne – is the success of Washington, and not an achievement of Tehran as Iranians tried to portray it. The struggle for the successful implementation of the agreement is far from being over, since Israel and Saudi Arabia are clearly not going to give up that easy, therefore they will continue to apply pressure on the United States. Finally, Russia has found itself on the losers side, since Tehran is not as interested in a partnership with Moscow now as it used to be.

Barack Obama did everything he could to ensure that the negotiations on the Iran nuclear program would end in a pretty specific agreement. One cannot underestimate the importance of Lausanne accords for him, since this “lame duck’s” second term is coming to a closure and the Democrats have done nothing worth mentioning in the US foreign policy so far. It was Obama who disgracefully fled Iraq and Afghanistan, in his term a wave of “color” revolutions has virtually destroyed the Middle East, leaving Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Yemen on the verge of utter and complete collapse. Bilateral relations with Israel were damaged, while the tension in relations with Riyadh keeps on growing. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Obama portrays the Lausanne agreement as a historic event. He enjoys playing the role of a peacemaker, although he keeps on stirring up the conflict in Ukraine.

The “lame duck” is not making a big secret of the fact that he hopes that Iran will carry on transition into the US camp, providing American corporations with huge paychecks once they get the access to Iran’s oil and gas resources. Tehran will be used in the game against Russia and in order to rebalance the Middle East as wel, which must to a certain degree restore the severely damaged reputation of Washington. The American president is confident in the fact that the success of his diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear program will be appraised by America’s Western partners in the EU and NATO, which are fairly frustrated with Washington’s mentorship in Europe, especially in everything that concerns Ukraine.

But the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program has yet to be implemented. And the problem in the deal between Iran and the major world powers lies deeper than in the content of this document. Iran has way too many opponents, since, as it was repeatedly underlined by the Republicans, Washington is dealing with a regime that “cannot be trusted”. A long list of Western experts believes that in the course of implementation of this deal Iran would be “cheating”, and that a lot of things will be hidden from the IAEA inspections. In return, Western powers abandon the sole and only effective instrument of affecting Teheran’s policies – trade and economic sanctions. Opponents of the agreement are convinced that the essence of the document signed in Lausanne is fairly simple: Islamic Republic of Iran de facto receives the status of a nuclear power. But this can mean only one thing: Obama will face a massive barrage of criticism both within the country and from outside. Should they apply this pressure together, there is every chance that Obama would yield. For instance, Israel demanded that in exchange for a de facto carte blanche on its nuclear program, Iran must be forced to recognize the Jewish state.

One cannot neglect the fact that the White House may be forced to revise the agreement that has already been reached, introducing tougher requirements to Iran in terms of international control and sanctions. This will cause a harsh response in Tehran, since not all the parties in Iran are particularly happy with this new U-turn towards the US. On top of all, Iranians got tired of waiting, when the country will get rid of the sanctions regime, and it may take Western powers a long time to withdraw those.

It’s hard to disagree with the fact that Iran has a lot to win from the agreement in Lausanne, should it be implemented without any gimmicks from the West or attempts to revise it. After all, Iranians got the better part of the deal – the removal of financial and military sanctions, which will allow Iran to export oil without any restrictions, while gaining access to billions of dollars of assets that were frozen in Western banks, which will allow it to modernize and strengthen its armed forces.

But are we supposed to be believe that the West would let go of Iran so easily, without getting any particular preferences that haven’t been voiced publicly. Certain leaks suggest that Tehran has allegedly promised that Washington would get the access to its oil and gas resources, while the US companies will enjoy preferences in a number of sectors of Iranian economy. Additionally, Iran would make concessions on a number of regional issues, in particular on the Yemeni crisis. It is clear that a liberal pro-Western team of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani couldn’t allow any of this happen without the approval of the spiritual leader of the country, namely Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Basically this means that Iran has got more than it can chew on in terms of benefits  for Ayatollah to agree with this transformation, or as a possible scenario – Tehran does not believe that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Republicans will allow the “lame duck” to go on with the deal. In this case, Iran will most certainly look like an honest player, while the White House will be portrayed as a liar.

One shouldn’t downplay the fact that Iran’s people are pretty tired of living under sanctions, therefore dissatisfaction had been growing gradually within Iran. Due to the Lausanne agreement Iranian leaders have managed to calm down the mounting pressure within the country. What happens if the West is going to cheat Iran would be none of their fault, in any case they’ve managed to buy some time and bring down the political tension.

Russia in this scenario has more than anybody to lose should the Lausanne agreement be implemented by the scheme brought forward by Washington. Moscow will not be able to compete with the West in the areas of investment and technology. So Russian companies will have to kiss Iran’s oil and gas fields goodbye. The only domain that Russia will be still able to cooperate with Iran will be the nuclear energy sector. Even if some playing field will be left open for Russian companies it will be considerably smaller than it was initially expected.

As for the negative sides, the list goes on: should Iran increase its oil exports, it can easily be doubled in short timespan (from the level of one million barrels a day up to two), so the oil prices will take a plunge yet again. It is a sensitive blow for Russia, but not critical, and it is unlikely that this may happen before autumn. But in the gas sector domain Iran can damage Russia’s interests big time if it builds a pipeline from Iran to southern Europe. This project has been in existence since 2010 and its construction is estimated to be finished within a couple of years, should the project be launched today. The estimated efficiency of this project must be mind-blowing, especially if it’s going to be used for the transportation of Qatari gas or linked with the Nabucco project. In fact, in this case the Russian Federation can simply lose the gas market in Southern Europe.

Moscow can also be surprised big time if Iran starts coopperating with Washington in the military and political spheres. In this case, Russia will have to seriously strengthen its naval and air presence in the Caspian Sea. This, of course, won’t happen overnight. It is possible that Tehran generally will not go that far while it is still ruled by the sitting regime. But as the Western investments grow, one can expect the rise of pro-Western political movements and the general Westernization of Iranian society. Any illusions in this domain can prove to be extremely costly for Russia.

Quite predictably, Russia will not be able to rely on the support of Iran in the successful resolution of numerous conflicts across in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where Moscow has significant military, political and economic interests. Tehran has already been cooperating with Washington in Iraq. The list of predictions can go a long way, but it’s still to early to tell anything for sure, yet one shouldn’t disregard the worst possible scenario in any situation.

Moscow was guided by the noble principles of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in its position on Iran, but still it shouldn’t have sacrificed its interests in exchange for uncertain assurances of Washington and the generous promises of Arabian monarchies. Especially once the West introduced anti-Russian sanctions over the events in Ukraine. And now Russia’s interests in Iran are directly affected by the US-Iranian secret agreements. Hopefully, politicians in Tehran will realize the danger of becoming dependent on Washington, that has always been affected by the pro-Israel lobby, Saudi dollars and the persistent Republican majority in Congress.

One thing is clear – the struggle for the implementation of the agreement in Lausanne has just begun.

Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”