A solution in sight
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The Geneva talks between the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) and Iran ended on Sunday, with an interim agreement for six months. This agreement limits Iran's ability to enrich uranium, dilutes irreversibly the existing stockpile of enriched uranium, stops further development of the plutonium producing Arak reactor, imposes intrusive international inspections and rolls back Iran's nuclear weapons programme. In return, Iran gains about $7 billion in trade and unfrozen accounts. Iran's economy has suffered with the currency plummeting, oil exports halved and unemployment is running at 24 per cent. The agreement has been endorsed by Iran's Supreme Leader and welcomed by the Iranian people, fed up with the hardship imposed by economic sanctions.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are sulking. The Israeli prime minister has called it a "historic mistake". The Saudi reaction was more guarded. The agreement is a potentially historic first step towards normalising relations between the US and Iran and could be a gamechanger in West Asia. Saudi Arabia is wary of any rapprochement between Washington and Tehran that will reduce its importance and tip the scale in favour of Iran, its arch-rival. Israel has been lobbying hard to get the US Congress to impose further sanctions. The White House has warned that any legislation imposing new sanctions against Iran may kill the deal and make the military option more likely. The White House has no appetite for another war. The US and Israel, close allies, are not on the same page on Iran.
On Syria, the Geneva-2 negotiations are stuck because of the insistence of the Syrian opposition that President Bashar al-Assad resign first. The role of Saudi Arabia in sabotaging the talks is also noteworthy. In an extraordinary display of tantrum diplomacy, Saudi Arabia rejected a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council it had won. The oil-rich kingdom's displeasure at American moves was palpable because Assad clung to power, after an agreement was reached on the Russian proposal for an internationally supervised destruction of Syria's chemical weapons and equipment. Given the violence of the Syrian civil war — where a toxic combination of external interference, sectarian animosity, militant Islamist elements and al-Qaeda have devastated the country — the only hope is for Geneva-2 to succeed.