On 4 April, despite such unfavorable factors as Saudi air strikes on Yemen and heated international media coverage on a so-called “Iran-Saudi proxy war”, a framework agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue was struck. The historic deal is a win-win agreement, reached after a long and arduous negotiation. It represents the victory of pacifism and rationalism and is the result of diplomatic wisdom, and China-US collaboration.
First, no matter how US and Iran have had different focuses of interpretation, the core contents satisfy the original intention and objective of accommodating the major concerns of both countries. While keeping its right to continued nuclear research and development, Iran must cut down the number of operating centrifuges for nuclear enrichment from 19,000 to 6,104, cut stored low enriched uranium from 10,000 to 300 kilograms, transform its Arak heavy-water reactor, commit not to build any new uranium enrichment facility or heavy-water reactor within 15 years and place all its nuclear activities under strict IAEA inspections during the next 25 years. As an exchange, the US and EU will end all economic and financial sanctions targeting the Iranian nuclear program.
Second, the deal is positive to not only stakeholders such as the US, Iran and European countries, but also for stability in the Middle East. For the US, as President Obama is approaching the end of his time in office, he and his team need to produce and leave an Obama legacy in American diplomatic history. Compared with increased interaction with Cuba, the US has devoted more attention, input and time to the negotiation on Iranian nuclear issue. To press ahead with the negotiation, President Obama risked conflict with hardliners in Congress and tensions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes the negotiations. Obama has spoken highly of the deal, describing it as being “historic”. For Iran, getting out of the sanctions and mitigating the increasingly severe economic difficulties in recent years is no longer an issue. Rather, it is fundamental to President Hassan Rouhani’s public support and the stability of the Iranian regime. Iran’s set objective is to get a deal, while maintaining its right to nuclear research and development, which effects Iran’s national dignity and spirit. In this connection, President Rouhani praised the deal as “a turning point in Iran’s relations with the West” and “opening up a new chapter in Iran’s external relations”. For European countries, who compared with the US are geographically closer to Iran and more dependent on Iran and the Middle East energy-wise, the deal serves their interests of security, energy and anti-terrorism.
It must be specially pointed out that the agreement is absolutely a favorable and stabilizing factor in the increasingly turbulent Middle East where there are multiple crises. Maybe it will not drastically change the situation there but at the least it will effectively reduce the risk of further escalation or even regional war. Mindful of the hard-earned agreement and relations with the US, Iran may have less of an impulse to get involved in Yemen, and may even have increased coordination with the US to crack down on ISIS as well as striving for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. The nuclear agreement may also be used by the US to contain Iran’s diplomatic rashness and regional ambitions.
The deal is also the result of diplomatic wisdom of parties concerned and China-US collaboration. The long negotiation process, the eight-day intensive talks towards the end in particular, has not only witnessed a contest of negotiation skills and an effort balance the interests of different parties but also tested the negotiators physically. The 71-year-old US Secretary of State Kerry exerted all his strength for the deal and had a rather hoarse voice at the press conferences. China has been involved in the 12-year negotiation process and its involvement has gradually deepened, with increasing contributions.
During his visit to Iran and meeting with his counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif last February, Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed a sincere hope that parties concerned would move towards each other, overcome difficulties and obstacles, do a good job to complete the toughest “final kilometer” of the marathon and avoid failure at the last moment at the risk of wasting all previous efforts. On 29 March when the negotiation was at the final key juncture, Wang flew to Lausanne from the Boao Forum for Asia to join the negotiation and make a contribution to the final conclusion of a deal. As a matter of fact, the deal to relax sanctions in exchange of the reduction of nuclear capabilities was proposed by the Chinese side, on the basis of its experience in dealing with the DPRK and its nuclear ambitions.
On top of that, in hopes that the comprehensive agreement negotiation in the coming three months would proceed smoothly, the Chinese Foreign Minister also put forward a four-point proposal, i.e., upholding political guidance (as the Iranian nuclear issue is after all an issue of political security); all parties meeting each other halfway; following a step-by-step and reciprocal process; and pursuing a package solution (as key focal issues that are yet to be solved are interconnected).
The negotiation over Iranian nuclear program has lasted for over a decade and now is promised a hope of final resolution. Even though there are still various difficulties, there are also reasons for optimism.