A street in Isfahan, IranHow has the US-Iran nuclear agreement been welcomed in Iran?
In terms of the reception within the general population, I can say that the majority of Iranians welcome the deal. In other words, not everyone is happy about the deal, and also not everyone was happy about the details of the deal, but the majority support it. The Iranian élites are generally divided into four groups: one which basically welcomes it all the way; another one that has criticisms but still welcome it; a third one that has legitimates criticism and has rejected it; and the fourth one, which is critical of the deal because they believe that it is not in Iran’s interest to have any deal on its program.
How could the agreement affect the Iranian politics and society?
In term of the society, the expectation is the removal of the sanctions. This will gradually impact various aspects of society, leading to more investments, more jobs available, and an improvement in the standard of living. This is the platform that President Rouhani ran on, and the reason that he won the election. The Iranian people will expect him to honor his promises.
The agreement will certainly have an impact on the politics of Iran. There are two groups in particular to discuss: the hardliners and the reformists. The perception is that the hard-liners want to limit the deal only to nuclear issues, so that it shouldn’t have any impact on the cultural sphere, on the social sphere, or on the political sphere. And they will do their best to limit its influence to the nuclear issue and foreign policy. But the Government and the reformists will try to expand the impact to other areas of social life. In other words, they will argue that as long as the sanctions were there and Iran was under extreme international threat and pressure, it might have been acceptable to take extraordinary measures. This allowed the security issue to be dominant, and there was a justification for a higher degree of control in politics. But with the removal of those threats, it doesn’t seem rational to the Government and reformists to continue to have such tight control on the political sphere, which led people to being arrested and freedom being limited. Now, there is no justification for continue to do that.
So we have to wait and see what will happens and what will be the impact of the deal on these other areas of social life.
The agreement opens a new chapter in the history of international relations. How will it affect the Middle East scenario?
Now, we are in the position to allocate more resources for dealing with the regional issues, which are critical. All our neighbors are insecure: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan. And who knows what it will happen in the fragile states of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia? We have to be very careful about our security in this neighborhood, and I predict that for the next ten to fifteen years, Iran is going to play an important role in stabilizing the region.
Middle Eastern actors linked to Iran like Assad’s Syria, the Iraqi government of al-Abadi and Hezbollah could also take advantage of the return of Iran on the political and economical scene. Could this mean more aids to fight the Islamic State and the other jihadist organizations?
We cannot deny that if we have more resources we will help our friends as well. But Iraq does not need our financial assistance. Iran will attempt to engage two important regional players, the Saudis and the Turks, and two important international players, the Russians and Americans to come up with a plan in order to stabilize the situation in Syria and isolate Daesh. We have long been clear on the point that it is important to cooperate and to coordinate the activities with the regional and international actors in order to contain and defeat Daesh. We are going to be involved on that issue too, and now we have more resources to allocate for that. Not only financial resources. There are much more chances now that Iran and Turkey are going to coordinate and cooperate in defeating Daesh in Syria.
The Gulf monarchies have been very hostile to the US-Iran negotiations. Saudi Arabia in particular threatens to undertake a program of atomic armament in cooperation with Pakistan. Is it a credible scenario?
No. Of course they are entitled to have a peaceful nuclear energy program under the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty]. If they want a nuclear program, they can have one. But I don’t know why they would link it to our program. They don’t need to get the permission from anyone, neither from the US, nor from Iran, nor from anyone else. What I doubt is that they will pursue a nuclear program because of the extensive infrastructure it requires, which Saudi Arabia doesn’t have and would take years to develop. If they want to pursue the nuclear weapons, that is illegal for anyone. For Iran, for Saudi, for anyone.
Should we expect an escalation of rearmament or is it possible to reach an agreement between the main Middle Eastern actors allowing the reorganization of the region?
I’m hopeful. In the next few months Iran’s foreign minister is going to have more meetings to reach out to regional and sub regional actors to smooth out the tensions and pave the way for a potential inclusive security dialogue.
Israel fears that the agreement constitutes a threat to its security. Are these fears justified?
Not at all. Americans are close friends of Israel; the deal that has been negotiated is not going to harm the interests of Israel. Israel’s leaders are not worried about the deal, they know that the Americans are not going to negotiate a deal against them, and they know that the Iranians are not seeking nuclear weapons. I have no doubt that the Israelis are sure of that. What Israel wants is not regarding our nuclear program, but what they want is to keep Iran isolated and to divert the attention from other issues. They want Iran to be the prime suspect for the nuclear issue and international attention to be focused on that and on the region’s conflicts and chaos. They don’t want to talk about the Palestinian rights. The Israelis are worried that with the removal of Iran as a perceived regional threat, then the attention is going to be turned towards them, and they will be asked about their nuclear program. We always talk about the Iran enrichment program but Israel has more than 200 warheads, which are not under the inspection of any international body.