From Joint Action Plan toward a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Co-authored with Yusuf Buluc (*)

5 April 2015

On 23 November 2013 P5+1 and Iran reached agreement on a Joint Plan of Action which was a road map for the negotiation process that was to follow. Sixteen months later we have a framework for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the last step before a “final deal” which should be in place by 30 June 2015.

As a general assessment we wish to quote from and largely concur with the statement issued by the International Crisis Group on 2 April 2015:
“The International Crisis Group applauds the 2 April agreement on a framework for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between Iran and the P5+1/EU3+3 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). This achievement is a triumph of multilateral diplomacy and a testament to the seriousness of purpose, patience and persistence of the negotiators involved in this process.
“… Negotiated outcomes by nature are imperfect. These agreed upon parameters provide Iran with an enrichment capacity higher than the U.S. and its allies preferred, and sanctions relief slower and more circumscribed than Iran desired. But both sides have protected their core interests and rightfully can claim victory – a precondition for any sustainable solution.
“This accomplishment is not final; it is as fragile as the forces against it are formidable. It has serious critics in Iran, the U.S. and the region…”
Being a most spectacular game in town, foreign and security policy community will rush to hurl their appraisals and critique. Whatever they may be, the 2 April agreement is the first good news in years for a world beset by conflicts extending from Afghanistan to Africa and from Ukraine to the Gulf. Without exaggeration, it is an event of real “game changer” quality.

“P5+1-Iran” is an abbreviation which somewhat conceals the qualitative import of what has been achieved and the net political clout of the parties to this bargain. What it really means is that for the last sixteen months Iran has been engaged in critical negotiations with the world’s six leading nations, except for the unique status of Germany as a negotiating partner, the rest of the team comprises NPT sanctioned nuclear powers which sit permanently at the United Nations’ omnipotent Security Council. Deal or no deal this composition at the negotiating table in itself is an achievement for Iran and will elevate its international standing.

Following the 1979 Revolution Iran tried to export its new regime with all its ills to Turkey. It interfered in our internal affairs; it used methods not permitted under international law, neither by the rules of legitimate statecraft. It targeted our secularist political system which it saw as an existential threat. And, they were not wholly unsuccessful. This is why the authors of this spot have little sympathy if any for Iran’s regime. This, however, does not prevent them from expressing admiration for the remarkable way in which Iran has launched the process and the diplomatic skill it displayed, as highly intricate stages of negotiations have unfolded.

With the caveat of the well-known principle of negotiation, that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, we too would offer our own preliminary thoughts regarding the “Framework” and what it portends to bring about in terms of peace and security in the region and beyond and its impact on the power relationships in the larger political arena. Finalizing the nuclear deal would represent Iran’s reconciliation with the West on a most critical security issue, thereby opening the door for ending Iran’s decades of isolation from the international political system.

In order to elaborate the point, let us address the following two questions…

First, what would be the impact of the deal on Iran’s regional policies?

All indications are that the Obama administration would try hard to engage Iran in seeking solutions to outstanding regional conflicts. Here again Iran would have a choice between insisting on its current policies or alternatively, assuming an upgraded and a more constructive role as a member of a wider group of key players, among them US and Russia.
It is evident that this may cause further discomfort in the Gulf nations and deeper irritation of Israel. The Washington Post reported that President Obama, in a phone call last Thursday to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, invited Arab leaders to Camp David this spring to discuss Iran and the turmoil in the region, a politically wise action on his part to mitigate their concerns and perhaps illustrate their potential gains in becoming shareholders in this enterprise.

A similar invitation may not be extended to PM Netanyahu since his travel plans are established under a different set of rules. The point here is that Mr. Netanyahu’s Palestine policies have already unleashed widespread reaction with hints of isolation in the West and his assuming a spoiler’s role in the context of the Iran nuclear deal would only make the situation worse. We believe that although PM Netanyahu has consistently failed to propose a realistically achievable alternative to the present package of measures, he should have grounds to be pleased with the progress so far made but would be unwilling to admit it.

And second, would the nuclear deal also mark the beginning of a broader reconciliation with Western values?

This, only time will tell. What one can say for the time being is that Iran is not going to be transformed into a liberal society any time soon. Nevertheless, should an evolution start at some point in the future, its beginning both chronologically and as a political reality would probably be traced back to the nuclear deal.

As for the economic implications for Iran and globally of a final deal, we may safely forecast that the West would rush to Iran for business. As a matter of fact Tehran has for some time been convening meetings abroad on investment opportunities in Iran and attendance has been so impressive that the Obama administration felt obliged to advise caution to its business community as sanctions were still in place.

Turkey, having borne a disproportionately heavy burden stemming from regional tensions, wars and sanctions, should give the P5+1-Iran process and the final deal, if and when it is in hand, its whole-hearted support. Turkey should also be in the forefront of a political enterprise to use the dynamic created by the deal to generate positive fallout out for regional peace and stability.

As a first step Turkey should stop seeing the world from the prism of obsession with Assad and his removal from the political scene. When Turkish foreign policy makers are asked to comment on tensions in the South China Sea, we former diplomats should not hold our breath fearing that the response may be “Assad must go first…” Humor aside, Turkey having paid a political price for having stood with Iran in the preliminary stages of this process would be doing itself a huge disfavor if it were to team up with the Sunni Arab camp which is viewing the process with deep skepticism and a cursory welcome, but lead this group to use this juncture to overcome the Sunni-Shia divide….
(*) Yusuf Buluc is a retired Turkish Ambassador and a former Head of NATO’s Department of Defense Plans and Policy.

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