Iran agrees ‘historic’ nuclear weapons deal

A working relationship: Exhausted but satisfied, negotiators gather for a photo op © PA

After years of sanctions, standoffs and mutual hostility, Western powers have come to an agreement with Iran that curbs the state’s nuclear programme. A victory for peace and diplomacy?

Yesterday, Barack Obama addressed America and the world in one of the most momentous announcements of his entire presidency. ‘After two years of negotiations,’ he began, ‘the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity have not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.’

This is a remarkable and long-awaited moment in international affairs, and one that many believed would never come. Iran, a hardline Islamic theocracy, has for decades professed a fierce hatred for the West. Its leaders refer to America as the ‘the Great Satan’ and have threatened to wipe ‘the Little Satan’, Israel, ‘off the map’. American leaders, for their part, have spoken of Iran as a ‘terrorist state’.

In 2002, it emerged that Iran had embarked on a secret nuclear programme. The USA was desperate not to allow Iran to get the bomb, and for 13 years the states were locked into a tense stand-off. As recently as 2012, right-wing US politicians were calling on Obama to bomb Iran. Many foreign policy experts believed that war was inevitable.

Instead of military action, however, Western powers opted for an ever stricter regime of crippling economic sanctions. Iranians were locked out of international money markets and prevented from selling goods abroad. The economy plunged into recession and the currency plummeted, losing almost half of its value.

Faced with financial collapse, Iran’s leaders agreed to sit down at the negotiating table. But reaching a deal was far from simple: despite Obama’s determination to demonstrate that diplomacy can resolve international crises better than war, talks have lasted nearly two years and regularly threatened to break down.

Now the agreement has finally been reached. Iran has promised to slash its uranium enrichment programme, to dispose of almost all of its uranium stockpile and to submit to ‘managed’ weapons inspections. If Iran complies with these terms, the West will gradually begin to lift its sanctions.

What’s the deal?

Obama has hailed this as a ‘historic’ agreement and a step towards ‘a safer and more helpful, more hopeful world’. This is a rare day of hope for a troubled planet, supporters agree: it proves that words can triumph over bombs.

The Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu agrees that the deal is ‘historic’. For him, however, it is not a historic breakthrough but a ‘historic mistake’. This agreement has legitimised a fanatical, militaristic state, he says, making the world ‘a much more dangerous place.’ Obama’s desperation for a settlement was foolish, his opponents insist. He should have stood firm.

You Decide

  1. Is it hypocritical of the USA to try to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons when it has thousands of its own?
  2. ‘Any diplomatic agreement is preferable to war.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. What do you think are the biggest threats facing humanity right now? Come up with a list as a class and rank them according to which is most worrying. Where does nuclear warfare come in the list?
  2. Imagine you are one of the candidates standing in the upcoming presidential elections in America. Write a short speech explaining why you support or oppose the deal with Iran.

Some People Say...

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Sun Tzu

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m confused... did the world just get safer or more dangerous?
It depends who you ask! On the one hand, Iran is now unable to develop a nuclear weapon without giving the world at least a year’s warning. This in turn makes it less likely that the US will stage a major intervention in the Middle East. But the lifting of sanctions will also make Iran stronger, and an aggressive Iran could exacerbate conflicts in neighbouring countries.
Should I be worried about nuclear war?
There are enough nuclear weapons in the world to destroy it many times over. That’s a scary thought. For this very reason, though, governments are reluctant to even contemplate using them. So nuclear apocalypse doesn’t currently seem like an immediate threat — but as long as the bombs are there, the danger is real.

Word Watch

Theocracy
A state ruled by religious leaders and governed according to religious principles. Iran’s ultimate religious and political authority is the Supreme Leader, who is supported by an ‘Assembly of Experts’ composed of clerics.
Nuclear programme
Iran has always insisted that its nuclear research was intended to be used in power stations rather than weapons. However, the quantity and quality of enriched uranium and other issues suggested otherwise.
Uranium enrichment
Uranium is a relatively massive atom which produces large amounts of energy when it is split. Only particular isotopes can be used in a nuclear reaction, for which uranium must be ‘enriched’. Weapons need much purer uranium than power stations.
Weapons inspections
International inspectors will have extensive but not unrestricted access to nuclear sites — one of the most contentious aspects of the agreement.
Benjamin Netanyahu
The Israeli prime minister is highly hostile to Iran, seeing it as an existential threat to his nation. Netanyahu is known for an uncompromising stance towards both external and internal enemies.

Subjects

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