The Nuclear Quandary: Back in the Spotlight

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With Saturday’s revelations that President Barack Obama believes there’s only a “50-50 or worse” chance of securing an Iran nuclear deal, the issue has once again surfaced beyond the immediate fanfare of the initial November diplomatic success that seemed to herald the prospect of a comprehensive agreement. With a nuclear-armed Middle East looming large on the United States’ foreign policy radar, what are the positions of each of the key players in any foreseeable accord? And what do these positions mean for an effective resolution to long-standing tension?

In the wake of previously failed multilateral discussions, it came as a surprise to many following international policy: diplomats from various great powers reached a groundbreaking agreement in Geneva regarding Iran’s nuclear progress. Most of the Western countries and American allies seem pleased with the results, as they significantly diminish the Iranian right to enrich uranium. Other countries, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia could not be more troubled. Regardless, the discussions that took place are undoubtedly proof of an important step forward. It is crucial to note, however, that this step forward is only one of many and will be worthless if Iran does not keep its side of the deal.

After all, a formal nuclear deal has yet to be reached. The international arena will have to wait six more months before attaining a definitive deal. Devised by the U.S, Russia, China, France, England, Germany, and Iran, the agreement pushes Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for lighter economic sanctions. Iran won’t be allowed to install any new centrifuges – the others won’t be allowed to impose any new trade sanctions on Iran.

For Washington, the interim agreement, albeit not formal, is a diplomatic success with Tehran. Freezing Iran’s nuclear facilities and preventing the country from developing dangerous nuclear weapons are two key goals for American foreign policymakers. For Israel, it is a “historic mistake” that will engender grave consequences. Because Iran is still considered one of Israel’s main threats, the latter remains doubtful.

For the progress made in a conference room in Switzerland to be truly unprecedented, important changes must be made. This could potentially be the solution to rising nuclear tensions between opposing powers. But the question remains: does this promote tolerance for a nuclear Iran or not? The American government says no, the Israeli Prime Minister says yes. Either way, if Iran takes the appropriate measures and follows the deal, it will have to bow to international monitoring of its nuclear plants. Meanwhile, the U.S. stands firm in asserting that the country does not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium, much to Iranian President Rouhani’s dismay.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds in store for the present balance of power. What risks is Israel willing to take to undermine a potential nuclear archrival? How far will Saudi Arabia go to subvert Iran’s rise in power? Will the U.S. and Iran, two countries that are more often at odds than not,  hold up their sides of the bargain? Will the preliminary negotiations bring us a new era of nuclear peace or will it lead to further complications? Only time–and according to Obama, a bit of chance–will tell.

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