The framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, adopted in Switzerland on Thursday, 2 April, goes by the title of ‘Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program’ — no doubt a lengthy name, but then, the agreement has also been a long time in the making.
In fact, the stand-off between Iran and the P5+1, the grouping of five permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, Britain, France, Russia, and the United States — plus Germany, has been going on for 12 long years. The agreement finally reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, aims to curb the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
Though full details of the highly technical framework agreement still have to be agreed before a 30 June deadline, both, the US and Iran, were quick in celebrating the success of the talks. President Barack Obama called the talks "a historic understanding with Iran" and Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani, termed it “a day that will remain in the historic memory of the Iranian nation.”
Years of mistrust, suspicion and wariness between Iran and the West had made the crisis over Iran's nuclear program seem unresolvable and repeated talks have bogged down over seemingly intractable issues. The P5+1 wants to rid Iran of its capabilities to build a nuclear bomb, while the Iranian Republic has insisted that it does not plan to build a bomb but will not give up its sovereign rights to run a peaceful nuclear industry.
However, this time around, there was political willingness on the part of the leadership in Washington and Tehran to reach a framework deal before the 31 March deadline. Though the deadline was missed, the tentative accord, struck few days later, allows the P5+1 to be satisfied that even if Iran decides to make a nuclear bomb, it will not have the capacity to build one in under a year. For its part, Iran will accept more detailed monitoring of its nuclear facilities in exchange for lifting of the crippling sanctions.
Experts on the region believe any agreement which leaves Iran free to pursue its nuclear program might result in a nuclear arms race in one of the world’s most unstable regions.
While many countries have nuclear weapons and at least eight possess nuclear weapons, but what makes the Iranian nuclear program so suspect is that the country had a clandestine uranium enrichment program that it hid from nuclear inspectors for 18 years, in breach of the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which it was a signatory. This led to a raft of sanctions by the UN, EU, US and other countries.
These include a ban on the supply of heavy weaponry and nuclear-related technology to Iran, a block on arms exports, asset-freezes, travel bans, bans on trade in precious metals, and bans on crude oil exports and banking transactions, among others. Iran finally agreed to suspend parts of its nuclear program under a temporary agreement in 2013, in return for some sanctions relief, but this was a stop-gap deal, not an end to the crisis.
According to the new framework agreement, sanctions will be gradually phased out as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance. The framework deal does not mean the crisis is over by a long shot. The P5+1 and Iran must now agree on all technical details by the end of June. The White House has said it is "confident" of reaching a final deal over Iran's nuclear program by an end-of-June deadline.
For his part, the President Rouhani has said the deal marked a step towards changing Iran's relationship with the world. He added, "Some think that we must either fight the world or surrender to world powers. We say it is neither of those, there is a third way. We can have co-operation with the world."