Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2015.07.27

An Iran Nuclear Deal Seen from Tokyo

JBpress on July 20, 2015

What has been a long concern by some in Tokyo is now becoming a reality. On July 14 in Vienna, Iran and P5+1 finally agreed on and signed the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear development programs.

A New York Times article described the JCPOA as "an historic accord to significantly limit Tehran's nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions."

Similar optimism has been common in Japan's major daily newspapers. For example, the Nikkei was upbeat with such headlines as "Iran's Oil Export Expected to Increase," "Energy Prices Will Fall" and "Japanese Firms Look to Tehran." The silent majority of Japanese, however, must question whether such rosy scenarios will prevail in the future.

As part of his always groundless naivety, President Barack Obama stated that "Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off." Iran's President Hassan Rouhani also said that "Iran will never produce nuclear weapons." Wait a minute, they may be correct. Here are the reasons why:

What was agreed upon in the JCPOA may not be important. The most important is what was NOT settled in this Iran nuclear deal. The P5+1 may claim that Iran's nuclear development programs will be significantly limited for the next eight to fifteen years.

They also claim that Iran will stay in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons regime and has accepted strict IAEA inspections. In return, they conclude that the international oil and financial sanctions against Iran will eventually be lifted. Will this agreement really work?

I am skeptical. The US Secretary of State proudly stated that the "breakout time," now only a few months, will be extended to more than a year. Iran, however, has never given up nuclear weapons-related technologies and facilities. The P5+1 just postponed the moment of truth by a decade or so.

Secondly, it is still unclear whether Tehran agreed that all the nuclear-related military facilities are subject to IAEA inspections. Haven't we heard something similar before? There is no guarantee that Iran will not cheat again, as Saddam's Iraq and Kim Jong-il's North Korea did in the past.

Finally, the JCPOA does not address Iran's "less legitimate" activities in the region that President Obama recently described. With the sanctions lifted, Tehran may be more capable of asserting its regional hegemonic influence that both Israel and Saudi Arabia are seriously concerned about.

Out of Japan's five major newspaper editorials, only the Yomiuri has expressed pessimism on the Iran accord, asking whether Tehran would truly keep its word. This only implies that the silent majority of Japanese may not be fully interested in and therefore not fully informed of the issue.

What the Japanese public must be informed about on this JCPOA nuclear deal are the following:

a) Despite the detailed explanation by the P5+1 leaders, Iran has NOT given up its ambitions to obtain technological capabilities, if not the weapons themselves, so to be ready for the prompt production of nuclear weapons at any given moment, as Israel possibly can now;

b) There is a serious probability that Iran may not abide by the obligations in the JCPOA;

c) The US might have accepted the incumbent Iranian Islamic regime and its nuclear technology ambitions as something inevitable.

Finally, more importantly for Japan and the US allies and partners in Asia may be the following:

d) The accord would be another example that the US has been making a political deal with a potential regional hegemon without prior consultations with its regional allies and friends. The last time, of course, was the US rapprochement with the People's Republic of China in 1972.

In a nutshell, the historic accord is indeed an historic document. It is historic not because it has made an historic achievement in the history of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons but because it could be a US historic miscalculation over Iran's intention on nuclear weapons.

The accord is not to prevent nuclear proliferation in the region. On the contrary, it virtually endorses that Iran cannot be prevented from going nuclear in a decade or two and, more importantly, that major Arab powers in the region will inevitably have to go nuclear, too.

This is not to criticize the Iran nuclear agreement. It is rather to reaffirm that we, in the 21st century, cannot stop the proliferation of nuclear technologies that started in the 1930s. If it is inevitable, it is more incumbent for US allies and friends in the world to be better informed and consulted with.

China's rise is also inevitable. The US, while fully consulting with its regional allies and friends, will have to strike a deal with the Communist regime in the years to come. The latest nuclear negotiation and its conclusion with Iran will be a negative example for such deal making.