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Geopolitical realities in the Middle East and the political mandate of the IAEA

August 2, 2023 at 4:45 pm

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi on April 27, 2023 [Aytaç Ünal/Anadolu Agency]

Geopolitical events in the Middle East, as well as the recent visit of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, to Iran for nuclear programme talks, contribute to how quickly the world is changing. With rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered by China, undermining US influence, new geopolitical realities are being created in the region.

Having received funding from the UN, the IAEA has decided to take on a political mandate. Although Iran has never been charged with breaking the law, there is a widespread assumption in the West that this may be the case. Uncertainties result from this deficit of trust.

During discussions between 2002 and 2018, Iran committed to stick to several standards. Sanctions imposed on Iran have resulted in its economy losing an estimated $100 billion. A triumph for diplomacy was achieved with Iran’s continued participation in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) despite the subsequent unilateral withdrawal of the US three years later. In the wake of UN Security Council agreement 22/31, Iran’s negotiations were, once again, placed on hold due to evidence of drone sales to Russia. The US Congress and the pro-Israel Zionist Lobby are the key culprits behind the failure of negotiations with Iran.

READ: Iran’s Khamenei says ‘nothing wrong’ with a nuclear deal with West

The involvement of the IAEA in the negotiations between Iran, the P5+1 and the EU is problematic. Israel’s lobbying efforts are the greatest impediment to dialogue. Iran does not possess any devastating weapons, yet the lack of confidence and trust between Iran and the West remains. The EU did an excellent job of preserving the confidentiality of the Iran accord until 2018. The IAEA has a political stance towards Iran even though its mission is technical. Iran has always responded to the concerns of the international community, but these responses inevitably create new difficulties. Even though Iran is a voluntary member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the vast majority of Iranians hold the belief that the West uses human rights concerns, military strategy and foreign policy as weapons in the conflict with Tehran. The prohibition on nuclear weapons should apply to the whole world, not just Iran. The consequences of an Israeli attack against Iran would be disastrous for everyone.

The geopolitical situation plays a role in Iran’s nuclear programme as well. There are links between the various dimensions, including the technical, diplomatic, security, legal and economic aspects. The policies of Iran, as well as China’s mediation between Tehran and Riyadh, have been influenced by the regional geopolitical context.

China is becoming more active in the Middle East, which poses a challenge to Western powers. The West was successful in stopping Iran by utilising both kinetic and non-kinetic measures. Things are different now as a result of Iran’s cooperation with Russia on matters of national security, commerce with Saudi Arabia and economic accords with China. At the moment, China is the largest customer for Iranian oil, purchasing approximately one million barrels per day. The JCPOA entailed a reduction of Iran’s daily oil exports from 2.5 million barrels to 500 million. Iran has capitalised deftly on any geopolitical openings that have presented themselves. It possesses cutting-edge technology, and its technical capabilities have increased significantly in both quality and quantity in recent years. After the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Arab threat was reduced. The fact that the NPT poses a risk to Iran’s national security is an excellent reason for quitting the treaty.

Israel: normalisation with Saudi Arabia a 'matter of time - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel: normalisation with Saudi Arabia a ‘matter of time – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Iran sees the current peace as an opportunity to mend ties with Saudi Arabia and improve its chances of reviving the JCPOA, which is still inactive. The current US administration will be encouraged by the most recent peace agreement, according to the government, to restart the nuclear deal as soon as it is feasible. The JCPOA is impacted directly by the treaty. Saudi Arabia has persisted in opposing Iran’s nuclear programme outright, putting pressure on Europe and the US for additional concessions. Iran saw it as a diplomatic victory because the agreement was announced when the JCPOA negotiations were at a standstill and there was widespread belief that the nuclear programme deal would never be renewed. It also gives Iran the possibility of diminishing international opposition to its nuclear programme, particularly from Middle Eastern governments, while still enabling Iran to maintain diplomatic relations with them.

The pressure on the JCPOA from the region has diminished since the Iran-Saudi deal. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both having trouble acquiring nuclear technology. Riyadh would surely pursue nuclear technology if Tehran gets it. Because Saudi Arabia is diversifying its economy, nuclear technology is crucial to the Kingdom’s transition to renewable energy. Since the rapprochement, there has been growing expectation that China will call a summit to discuss the JCPOA with all countries involved. Unrest in the region may have a significant impact on China’s interests in terms of energy, security and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Iran can continue to interact with countries in the region while this is happening but, up until now, China’s interest in the region has primarily been commercial.

Reports that Saudi Arabia is seeking to normalise relations with Israel alarm Iran. The regional undercurrents were different before the 2020 Abraham Accords, since most of the Gulf states refused to recognise Israel. Moreover, Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE have normalised their relations with Israel, which affected Iran’s standing in the region adversely and accelerated its seclusion.

READ: Iran has talks with EU’s Mora amid efforts to save nuclear pact

Iran allayed its concerns about Israel and Arab nations working together to target its nuclear programme by signing the agreement. Now that Netanyahu has returned and is causing substantial domestic strife and division within Israel, the US has been able to undermine its authority and support base once more. As a result, the Saudi-Iran rapprochement warns Israel of its reliance on America and that inattention will not be tolerated. Israel has been the most concerned country since the Saudi-Iran agreement. The alliance of two significant regional superpowers, one of which is a fierce foe, undermines and jeopardises Israel’s security and existence.

With the Palestinian issue experiencing a comeback at the moment, it will have a significant impact on Arab society as well as the approach of Arab leaders. It’s as though we’ve travelled back to a time in Middle East history when the Palestinian issue was critical.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.