quinta-feira, 2 de abril de 2015

Doubts that threaten a deal with Iran

A reasonable question to be asked of the great power talks to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions is whether a deal would provide absolute assurance that Tehran will not build a bomb. The reasonable answer is No. This is not to say the endeavour should be abandoned. A cursory glance at the tumultuous geopolitical upheavals of the past decade tells us that we live in an era of vanishing certainties.

Marathon negotiations have delivered what is being called a political framework for an agreement between world powers and Iran,There is no guarantee it will be translated into a final accord. The process has as many enemies in Washington as Tehran. The argument these past few days in Lausanne has been about the technical dimensions of a bargain: how many centrifuges should Iran be allowed to operate, what will happen to its existing uranium stockpile, how strict will be the inspections regime, what safeguards should be applied to the underground enrichment facilities at Fordow and plutonium production at Arak? And, on the other side, how soon will sanctions be lifted: will the EU move first, what are the benchmarks for the dismantling of the UN sanctions regime, can the US administration lift the financial embargo without the support of the US Congress?

There is plenty of gamesmanship here, and the Iranians have a deserved reputation as skilful and unforgiving negotiators. But the details matter. The international community has to be
persuaded that Iran is intent on narrowing its nuclear operations and that,
were the regime to change its mind, the world would be given due warning (in practice, a year) of any attempt to produce a weapon. It should be as expensive as possible for Tehran to renege on the deal.

Iran has its own politics, ugly as they often are. They rotate around what its own diplomats call sovereignty and respect, and what outsiders sometimes identify as the paranoia born of isolation. US president George W Bush’s axis of evil speech did not help. A regime that can still refer to the US as the Great Satan feels it must demonstrate to its constituency that it has not buckled under American pressure. After 35 years of not talking to each other, the level of mutual trust between Washington and Tehran unsurprisingly is close to zero.

Important as they are, the best that can be hoped of the specific obligations imposed by such an accord is that they shift the political calculus in Tehran. For the great powers sitting opposite Iran at the talks — and for anyone who believes that nuclear non-proliferation remains a vital pillar of international order — the nagging question will remain: “Do the Iranians really mean it?” The answer this time is that it is impossible to tell. The odds are that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has to make up his mind whether to turn a breakout capability into a bomb.

A few years ago there was talk of a grand bargain that could see Iran’s return to the community of nations and the west renounce any idea of regime change. American officials floated such ideas in clandestine contacts with Tehran via Swiss intermediaries. The moment came and went. The American order in the Middle East has now all but collapsed. Iran has decided to project itself more aggressively as a regional power. Sanctions may have crippled it economically, but the hand of Tehran is in evidence wherever you see a trouble spot — in Lebanon and Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The collision between Iranian assertiveness and a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states mirrors reduced US engagement. The fires burning in the region will not be easily extinguished. To the contrary, the closer Iran moves towards normalisation of its relationship with the rest of the world, the harder Saudi Arabia and its regional allies may fight to reduce its influence elsewhere. The Arab military coalition assembled against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, including Egypt as well as the Gulf states, may well be a harbinger. In the short term, the price of a nuclear deal may be escalation in the Sunni-Shia confrontation.

So why, given the unavoidable doubts about Tehran’s intentions, the anger of Washington’s Arab allies and the threats of Israel’s bellicose prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has US President Barack Obama been right to press ahead with negotiations? Simple. There is not a better alternative. Bombing Iran could delay but not destroy the nuclear programme and, in the process, would unite the vast majority of Iranians around the effort to build a bomb. Sanctions make life difficult for the regime, but they do not erase the knowledge of its nuclear scientists. And, all the while, the centrifuges keep spinning.

The only solid guarantee against an Iranian nuclear weapon is a decision by the regime in Tehran that its own interests and that of the country are better served by not crossing the line. This does not mean the west should acquiesce in any attempts to cheat the non-proliferation system or its efforts to expand its military reach. The US retains a balancing role in the Middle East. The great powers have a chance — no more than that — to rein back Tehran’s nuclear programme. They should take it. There are no foolproof answers in today’s disordered world

Philip Stephens

Fonte: FT