Cross-posted from the Indian Punchline blog

The Iran nuclear agreement, which was reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday, is an incredible diplomatic victory for the United States. It contains terms that are far better than anyone would have expected. Short of dismantling altogether Iran’s nuclear establishments – and albeit leaving Iran as a threshold state – the US negotiators led by Secretary of State John Kerry have succeeded in getting Iran to agree to a complex, almost water proof set of limitations that aim at extending the time Iran would need to “break out’ and make a dash toward a nuclear weapon.

Take a look at the actual terms and conditions that the US negotiators got Iran to agree to:

  • Iran will give up around 14000 of its 20000 centrifuges.
  • Iran will only retain its most rudimentary, outdated ‘first-generation’ centrifuges.
  • Iran will be prohibited from building or developing newer models of centrifuges.
  • Iran has to give up all but 300 kilograms of its vast stockpile of 10000 kilograms of enriched uranium.
  • Iran will destroy or export the core of its plutonium plant at Arak.
  • Iran shall ship out all spent nuclear fuel.
  • There will be no enrichment activity at the underground Fordow site.
  • IAEA inspectors will monitor not only the nuclear facilities but the entire supply chain, including uranium mines and mills.
  • The heavy water reactor at Arak will be rebuilt so that it cannot produce weapons grade plutonium.

In return, Iran benefits out of the suspension of US and EU sanctions and the removal of UN sanctions. On the other hand, the agreement makes sure that a year-long warning of a potential Iranian break-out is available.

The strong verification measures will ensure that any Iranian clandestine effort to “break-out” can be detected. On the other hand, Iran retains a significant nuclear infrastructure, which it can expand in the fullness of time once the agreement expires and could form the basis for a significant nuclear industry.

In sum, the agreement reached yesterday can be seen as a diplomatic win-win. The agreement meets with the US’ core objective of making it impossible for Iran to possess nuclear weapons. And, from the Iranian viewpoint, the removal of the sanctions opens the door for Iran’s full integration with the international community, which could unlock the country’s huge economic potential and make it the next racy emerging market.

Yesterday’s agreement is not merely a matter of nuclear non-proliferation and the US-Iranian normalization is much more than a bilateral affair. The Middle East is not going to be the same again and international security benefits hugely. But more of that later.

What matters today is that the real winner is President Barack Obama. Six years after being awarded the Nobel, he earned it yesterday. Obama’s central foreign-policy proposition that dialogue and diplomacy are the best means of resolving the US’ differences with its adversaries has been vindicated.

This is indeed the finest hour, so far, of Obama’s presidency in the foreign-policy sphere – and he still has some 21 months to go. There was skepticism whether this professorial and austere president, famous for his aloofness, would stay the course with the engagement of Iran while under such withering and irrational criticism – at times very vicious attack, too, at a very personal level that is unpardonable in any mature democracy – from detractors at home and abroad regarding the propriety of what he was doing. But Obama persisted steadily and diligently, slowly and quietly with his compass tracking the day-to-day progress of negotiations.

For sure, Obama is the most underrated president in American history. What ultimately gave him moral and political strength would have been the strength of his democratic convictions. He knew the American people were with him.

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M.K. Bhadrakumar

M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat who served for more than 29 years as an Indian Foreign Service officer with postings including India’s ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan.

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