In what was a very challenging year globally, the breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear programme last summer was a rare high point. It was not just that the draft agreement paved the way for a decrease in tensions in such an important and volatile region– an urgent need for which we have witnessed again in the last few days with tensions flying high between Saudi Arabia and Iran – but the rich promise it held for the longer-term.
An improvement in relations between such influential powers holds out hopes for cooperation on a host of other major problems. As we view the violence and chaos in so much of the wider region and world, no one can argue improved cooperation is not desperately needed.
On the economic front, too, the deal is very welcome news. Any easing and, hopefully, eventual complete removal of sanctions on Iran will provide a wide-ranging boost for trade, employment and prosperity. Wherever you look in the world, growth is being down-graded. The full integration over time of Iran into the regional and global economy will provide a positive boost.
But the agreement also holds a wider and important lesson. For if progress could be made in a dispute where the stakes were so high and suspicions so deep and long-lasting, it shows how a determination to find a solution and good faith on all sides can overcome the seemingly most intractable of problems.
These benefits explain why everyone involved in the long negotiations deserves praise and why the signs of continued progress in putting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action into place are so welcome. Our entire world will gain when the agreement fully comes into force.
Kazakhstan, of course, played a role in keeping the negotiations on track. By hosting two rounds of talks between P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. plus Germany) and Iran in Almaty when the process had stalled, it gave all parties the opportunity to demonstrate they did not want to walk away but were intent on working through the difficulties blocking progress. It provided the platform and space for the historic breakthroughs to be made later.
There is plenty of work to be done before the agreement meets all its goals. So it is no surprise that Kazakhstan, which, perhaps uniquely, can claim to have warm relations with all partners in the negotiations, was asked again to play what the Wall Street Journal has described as “a significant role” in driving forward progress.
With the approval of the P5+1, Iran, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazakhstan last month supplied Iran with natural uranium for its civilian nuclear programme. This was in compensation for the enriched uranium sent by Iran to Russia – one of the most important agreement milestones passed so far.
The move is a reflection of the high confidence placed in Kazakhstan and its leadership. It also underlines the country’s long-standing determination to do all it can to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and support each nation’s right, with full international safeguards, to harness the potential of nuclear power to meet its energy needs.
These goals will also both be powerfully served by the decision for Kazakhstan to host the IAEA’s low enriched uranium fuel bank on its territory. The LEU bank will enable countries to develop their own peaceful nuclear energy without fears that the uranium supplies might be disrupted for political reasons and without the need to develop their own enrichment capabilities, a critical factor that may be diverted for weapon developments. The establishment of the LEU bank will raise trust across this whole sphere while helping countries deliver economic growth without raising emission levels. In the long run, this could be among Kazakhstan’s most important contributions to a more peaceful, prosperous and stable world.
There are, of course, many obstacles still to overcome until the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action over Iran’s nuclear programme is fully in place. And there is no shortage of doubters, including in both the United States and Iran, who believe the deal will not hold or that too much has been given away. But the progress so far and the milestones reached give real hope for the future. And that’s an optimistic message for 2016.