Crucial Iran nuclear deadline pushed back
Iran wants an end to economic sanctions. The world wants to end Iran's nuclear ambitions. They can’t agree, but they are still talking. But is it hypocritical to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons?
There was no popping of champagne corks, but then there were no threats of war either. As the clock ticked towards the midnight deadline for negotiations over curbing Iran’s nuclear programme, diplomats from six nations and Iran finally reached a deal. It settled nothing, but they agreed to continue discussions for another seven months.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rohani, was pleased. He said the differences between the sides had ‘narrowed’, yet US officials warn that major disagreements remain.
That the sides have agreed to keep talking is itself an achievement. The West has been anxious about Iran since a 2011 International Atomic Agency report warned it was secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran claims it only wants to boost its nuclear reactors to generate electricity. While it doesn’t yet have any nukes, the US wants to limit the speed with which it could develop a weapon in the future.
The Middle East is one of the most volatile regions in the world and the US and its allies worry that a nuclear-armed Iran would undermine stability further. Iran regularly threatens Israel with annihilation and Saudi Arabia would certainly rush to build its own bombs if Iran went nuclear.
Iran entered negotiations partly because it wants an end to Western sanctions that are badly damaging its economy, President Rohani also seems genuinely interested in better relations with the West.
But power in Iran ultimately rests with its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His conservative clerical regime is deeply hostile to the US and has demonised it for 30 years as the imperialist ‘Great Satan’. For the Ayatollah, compromising with the US would be seen as a loss of face.
While no agreement has been reached, commentators hope the deadline's extension is a sign that Iran’s frosty relations with the world are thawing.
The nuclear option
Some commentators say it is hypocritical to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Israel, Pakistan, India, the UK and other nations have them, and the US has over 5,000 warheads. The US, in particular, cannot lecture others until it gets serious about reducing its own stockpile. The sanctions are nothing more than bullying.
Yet others say that while many countries already have nuclear weapons, it is in the interests of global security to try to prevent this number growing, especially in the unstable Middle East. Iran has been known to support terrorists abroad, and if it had nuclear weapons, it might feel that it could meddle in another country’s affairs with impunity. It cannot continue to threaten Israel and still be allowed to develop nukes.
- Should the world stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
- ‘Nuclear weapons are the biggest threat facing mankind.’ Do you agree?
- In groups, imagine you are the United Nations Security Council and you want to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Without resorting to war, list five steps you could take to pressure Iran to stop, such as imposing sanctions.
- Imagine you are an ordinary Iranian. Sanctions have shattered your country’s economy, meaning fewer jobs and more expensive everyday items, but the government refuses to give up its nuclear programme. Write how the situation might make you feel.
Some People Say...
“A world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for us all.’Margaret Thatcher”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why should I care about an Iranian nuclear deal?
- Because the Middle East is already one of the most volatile parts of the world. There is the seemingly endless conflict between the Palestinians and Israel in Gaza and the West Bank, IS (so called ‘Islamic State’ or ISIS) waging a war of terror in Iraq and Syria, already torn by civil war, and rival Sunni and Shia factions and states deeply mistrustful of each other. A nuclear Iran would add even more unpredictability into this mix.
- Is the world at risk of nuclear war?
- Not in the same way as during the Cold War, when on occasion the US and the Soviet Union came dangerously close to global destruction. Rather than countries launching missiles, the biggest danger today is that a terrorist group manages to get its hands on nuclear materials.
- The five permanent members of the UN’s Security Council (the US, UK, China, France and Russia, plus Germany), are collectively known as the P5+1.
- The P5+1 wants to limit Iran’s number of centrifuges, which enrich uranium so that it can be used to make a nuclear weapon. The more centrifuges, the faster this can happen. The US wants to make sure it would take Iran at least a year to build a weapon so it could be prevented.
- Among other threats to come from Iran, the country’s former president said Israel is a ‘cancerous tumour’ that ‘should be cut off’. This is why Israel has threatened to bomb the Iran nuclear installations if there is no deal.
- A particularly sore point between the countries was the US embassy siege. After Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, protesters raided the US embassy in Tehran and 52 diplomats and US citizens were held hostage for 444 days.
- While the US has reduced its nuclear stockpile from a peak of 31,000 warheads, it still has significantly more nuclear weapons than any other country, as does Russia with the second largest stock.