What is it about nuclear technology?

Here in the UK, we routinely debate whether there is any justification for this expensive and potentially destructive technology; however, for Iran, it is the metaphorical forbidden fruit, a luxury banned by the powerful United States. However, considering that currently 83% of Iranians believe it is “very important” for Iran to continue developing its nuclear programme, it seems that the US has denying Iran these powers to extend its nuclear programme this fruit has made the fruit all the more appealing.

Unless you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, you will be aware that relations between the US and Iran are, to put it mildly, rather sour. In fact, the US and Iran have shared an implacable hatred since the late 70s, the genesis of which was the discovery that Iran failed to disclose nuclear facilities, fuelling fears that it was secretly developing a nuclear weapons programme. Whilst Iran may legitimately generate nuclear power as a signatory of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association) their scale of centrifuge production over the past decade far exceeds the required amount for peaceful energy production.

The Arak heavy water plant in Iran
The Arak heavy water plant in Iran, is one of a number of nuclear facilities in the middle eastern country. Photo: Wikimedia, Nanking2012

This long-lasting tension was epitomised in 2002 when the then US President George W. Bush labelled Iran as “the axis of evil”.

However, shockingly, on 14th July 2015, the US, alongside other western nations and Iran saw eye-to-eye in the form of a nuclear agreement. Iran has been required to slow the development of its nuclear programme, and reduce its enrichment capacity by two thirds, in return for a relaxation of other internationally implemented economic sanctions, allowing the once crippled economy to prosper unshackled from the chains of economic restrictions.

Ultimately, the main resulting success is that it will now be harder for Iran to make a nuclear weapon than had an agreement not have been made at all.

This controversial agreement has polarised opinions: Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has damned the deal as “a heavy mistake of historic proportions”, The Guardian believes the deal marks a “triumph of diplomacy” and Hilary Clinton has hailed this as an “historic moment”.

Whilst Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian reformist president, alongside Netanyahu have achieved a lot through tireless diplomacy, a decision such as this is still highly influenced by, and some may argue ultimately within the sole remit of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The Iranian cleric is consistently embroiled in controversy as a fervent opponent of the west and in particular, US foreign policy and hence his blessing towards this agreement has proved to be somewhat of a surprise. Some see this as the most crucial of this deal’s successes: the western sceptic politician urging the US “recognise the Islamic republic’s right to a peaceful nuclear programme”.  A great victory when we consider that previous UN Security Council resolutions demanded a halt to their entire scheme.

This recognition means that Iran may now realign its middle eastern position from a source of international political tension to a more collaborative nation uniting against threats to regional stability. Chiefly, cooperation against the abominable acts conducted by the Islamic State in Iraq and the levant is what Obama undoubtedly hopes will come to fruition in the coming years.

We should all rejoice and welcome this historic agreement and share President Rouhani’s sentiment in a “new chapter” for Iran in relations with the outside world. I doubt everyone will be rushing to the travel agents to book their next holiday to Tehran, but nevertheless, this historic agreement is one step closer to a peaceful middle east and beacon of hope for future constructive relations with one of the world’s oldest civilisations.