The Future Of Iran’s Nuclear Program
The Iranian government is currently in negotiations with P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, France, the U.K., and Germany) dealing with the future of their nuclear program. The Iranians claim that they are only using nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. However, the international community believe that Iran is enriching uranium to make nuclear weapons.
There is much at stake in these negotiations. The Iranians have been under crushing oil export sanctions since mid-2012, not to mention the U.S. sanctions imposed since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran desperately needs to be out from under the sanctions if it hopes to save its faltering economy. In order to achieve this, it will undoubtedly have to scale back its nuclear program.
The talks have stalled at times, and multiple deadlines have been extended. But it now appears that the two parties are closer to a deal than ever before. It is sure to be a world-changing deal, and the possible consequences of such a deal are both frightening and uplifting. Here is a list of eight things that may happen once the Iranian nuclear deal is finalized.
1. International Tensions Rise
Iran has been marginalized in the international markets for some time now. They will undoubtedly assert themselves once the sanctions are lifted. The problem is that other nations have already filled the void in the market and may be unwilling to allow Iran to participate. Specifically, Russian, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have all benefited immensely from sanctions against Iran. The Iranians must reenter the market slowly to avoid starting an armed conflict with one of these nations.
2. Oil Prices Drop
Oil prices have been trending steadily downward over the last year, and Iran’s reentry into the market will force them even lower. In fact, even before the Iranians formally enter the market, the prices will go down just from the initial shock of the sanctions being lifted.
Before the 2012 sanctions, Iran was exporting approximately 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. Since the sanctions went into effect, the Iranians have averaged only 1.4 million barrels per day. This is going to be a huge influx of product into a market already experiencing a downward trend in value. The price drop could be staggering.
3. The Saudis May Get Some New Customers
Conventional wisdom is that the Iranian sanctions being lifted will be detrimental to the Saudi oil industry. Although this is largely true, there are some benefits to Iran reentering the oil trade. The sanctions have forced Iran to offer discounts to their most loyal customers, including, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey. It is likely that the Iranians will no longer offer these discounts once they are granted unsanctioned economic power. This will open up new markets and provide new potential buyers for oil from Saudi Arabia and other gulf states.
4. Iran Becomes a Natural Gas Power Broker
Since Russo-Ukrainian conflict started last year, Iran has been trying to position itself as a viable alternative to the Russians in the natural gas industry. As Europeans sour on support Russia through buying natural gas, they will be looking for other suppliers, and Iran definitely has the product available in large quantities. Iran reportedly generates over 160 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, and with the sanctions lifted, they will be able to sell it to anyone they wish.
Iran is currently the third largest natural gas producer in the world, trailing only Russia and the United States. The main problem with Iran’s natural gas plan is that they currently lack the infrastructure to ship large quantities to Europe. It is possible, however, that Iran will be able to build this infrastructure when sanctions are lifted and revenue starts flowing into the country.
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5. Saudi Arabia Goes Nuclear
For many, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East would be a nightmare. But it might just happen if the Saudis are unhappy with the restrictions placed on the Iranians in the nuclear deal. The Saudis have been vocal about their desire for all of Iran’s nuclear capabilities to be destroyed, but at the moment, that doesn’t appear to be the outcome of the deal.
Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia recently said:
Iran’s nuclear program poses a direct threat to the entire region and constitutes an incentive for nuclear proliferation across the Middle East, including Israel. We hope to receive assurances that Iran will not pursue this kind of weapon. But if this does not happen, all options will be on the table for Saudi Arabia.”
The Prince’s words seem to indicate that Saudi Arabia will consider procuring a nuclear weapon. Their recent actions also seem to indicate this. Recent reports have uncovered that the Saudis paid for up to 60% of Pakistan’s nuclear program with the understanding that they would be able to buy nuclear warheads from them on short notice. Both the Saudis and the Pakistanis deny these reports, but they come from solid Western intelligence sources, so they should not be taken lightly.
6. Israel Goes to War
Israel declaring war on Iran without the support of a Western coalition is unlikely; however, a proxy war between the two nations has been ongoing for several years. Israel has long thought that Iran was the only legitimate threat to their power in the region. Israel is worried that the sanctions will be lifted and that Iran will be able to develop nuclear weapons. As a result, the proxy war has intensified in recent months.
Most of the fighting has been in war-torn Syria. Earlier this year, Israeli helicopters attacked a Hezbollah convoy in Syria and killed six Revolutionary Guard commanders. The proxy war will only intensify if Israel is unhappy with the nuclear deal.
7. Iranian Moderates Take Control
Some believe that a successful nuclear deal could prop up moderates in Iran, and weaken the power of the clergy. The majority of Iranians seem to favor a deal. They know that they need more jobs and capital in the country and normalizing relations with the west can accomplish that.
Iranian President Rouhani has been a staunch supporter of a deal. If money starts pouring into the country as a result of his negotiations, his already strong popular support will grow larger. If Rouhani succeeds, he will prove to Iranians and the world that Iranian moderates can actually get something done without relying on the clergy. This could motivate the opening moderates to take more power away from the clergy.
8. Iranian Moderates are Eliminated
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Although the nuclear deal presents a great opportunity for President Rouhani, it is also a huge risk. If the economy continues to stall even after the sanctions are lifted, he and moderates will be blamed. The clergy are excellent propagandists, and Ayatollah Khamenei will have no problem eliminating Rouhani in order to consolidate power. He’s done it before. Iranian expert Karim Sadjadpour recently explained,
Ayatollah Khamenei would be quick to blame Mr. Rouhani if a deal did not produce sufficient sanctions relief to be felt by most people. The supreme leader has emasculated every president he’s worked with to protect himself and the regime. After 26 years in power, it’s doubtful that he will take a different approach toward Rouhani.”
If the nuclear deal does not win popular support through an economic boom, President Rouhani and the moderates will be in trouble and the radical conservatives in the clergy will have even more power than they do today.
The stakes are high in the Iranian nuclear negotiations. The eventual deal struck between the two parties could truly shape the world in both wonderful and horrifying ways depending on how things progress. It’s impossible to predict how it will all turn out, but there are a number of plausible possibilities that could change the region and the world forever.