Iran Nuclear Deal One Year On
Jul. 14, 2016
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of a landmark deal aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program. The move was hailed as historic, but challenges remain.
Iran and the US, countries that have been at odds for decades, found common ground. The agreement was supposed to stabilize the Middle East. Tehran hoped the deal would boost its economy.
But one year on, people in Iran feel increasingly frustrated. Economic relations with the West haven't improved as much as they'd hoped.
The deal between Iran and 6 world powers to scale back Tehran's nuclear program was seen as a turning point.
"I would like to stress that Iran will never produce or develop nuclear weapons," said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
In January, Western powers lifted sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program after confirming Tehran had complied with the terms of the agreement. The sanctions included a ban on imports of Iranian crude oil.
Tehran's nuclear program was once seen as a major source of tension in the Middle East. The deal was aimed at helping to stabilize the region.
"We've achieved this historic progress through diplomacy without resorting to another war in the Middle East," said US President Barack Obama.
Iran has been trying to revive its economy since the sanctions were lifted. Oil exports have doubled. But in March, Iran's Revolutionary Guards test-fired ballistic missiles.
Washington criticized the move. Tehran insisted the tests were legitimate defensive activities. That prompted the US to toughen sanctions related to the missile program.
The US presidential election in November could pose a threat to the 2015 deal. Presumptive Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton backs the agreement. But her Republican rival, Donald Trump, has talked about scrapping it.
"You look at this new Iran deal which took forever to get done. You look how bad it is and how one-sided it is," Trump said.
A Sense of Frustration
People in Iran hoped to see new business opportunities when nuclear-related sanctions were lifted in January. But their hopes have been disappointed amid increasing distrust of the US.
A vast oilfield spans the horizon near Iran's southwestern border with Iraq. Access to this national project in the Azadegan oilfield is tightly controlled. However, after repeated requests we were able to get permission from the government to film there.
Iran has the world's fourth-largest known oil reserves. The oilfield is believed to contain enough crude to meet Japan's import requirements for 20 years.
However, US economic sanctions against Iran forced the Japanese company that used to hold an interest in this field to pull out. Since then, progress has been delayed.
After economic sanctions were lifted in January, Iran began negotiations to attract foreign investment and advanced technology to develop its oilfields.
Last month, a major French oil company signed a deal to develop the Azadegan oilfield.
"One of the main sectors of our economy is the oil and gas industry," says Alireza Kazemi, field coordinator at the oilfield. "We had control of our oil industry, but it was taken away from us because of the sanctions. But we will get it back."
Business tie-ups are boosting other industries as well. One of the post-sanction achievements widely reported in Iran was a deal to buy aircraft from Boeing of the United States.
However, there have also been recent developments that threaten the nuclear agreement.
Mohammadreza Abed runs a Persian carpet-making firm. Annual sales of Persian carpets in America used to top $120 million. Now that the ban on the export of Persian carpets to the US has been lifted, Abed is eager to see exports grow.
"The base color is cream. Americans and Europeans like brightly colored products. They don't like dark colors," said Mohammadreza Abed, director general at the Iran Carpet Company.
But payment in US dollars is still restricted because of remaining sanctions against Iran.
Besides, Abed says foreign banks are still refusing to transfer funds to his firm even in currencies other than the dollar. One major bank was fined nearly $9 billion by the US for violating the sanctions. Financial institutions are extremely careful about breaking US sanctions.
"We have some money in foreign banks and want to transfer it to Iran. But they don't let us; they say the sanctions aren't entirely lifted," Abed says. "They have promised to look into it, but there are still problems with money transfers."
The issue of bank settlements is posing major challenges to other Iranian companies, as well as foreign firms hoping to capitalize on the growth potential of Iran's oil industry.
Tehran claims it has not benefitted from the lifting of the sanctions despite having agreed to limit its nuclear development, a program on which it was staking the country's prestige. Iran strongly condemned the United States, saying its frozen overseas assets have not been returned.
"We will keep our commitment to the nuclear agreement," said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. "US presidential candidates are threatening to tear up the agreement or violate it. If they tear it up, we will light it on fire."
The landmark nuclear agreement requires Iran, the US and Europe to continue working together over the next 10 years. However, their success will continue to face uncertainty.
NHK World's Tehran bureau chief, Kentaro Shinagawa, joins anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio.
Shibuya: I understand there's been progress in some areas and not so much in others since the agreement was signed a year ago. What changes have you seen?
Shinagawa: Yes, some of the news is good. The country plans to purchase new commercial aircraft and oil exports have doubled. I visited the Azadegan oilfield this week. It's the largest in the Middle East. I sensed the Iranian government's eagerness to secure foreign investment and technology to speed up oilfield development. And I think that's why we could get permission to film there.
On the other hand, not everyone has benefited from the agreement. More and more people on the street are telling me that nothing has changed. I'm afraid this feeling of betrayal could grow. The frustration could cause people to lose patience.
Beppu: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has expressed frustration at the situation. He warned that Iran would not hesitate to scrap the nuclear deal. What should we make of his remarks?
Shinagawa: He was responding to comments by Donald Trump. The Republican US presidential candidate said he would tear up the agreement the moment he becomes president. There are 3 rival factions in Iran. In this case, the reformists and moderates support the agreement. But the hardline conservatives are skeptical. They don't trust the West at all.
Khamenei stressed that Iran doesn't want to break the agreement. But it depends on the actions of the other parties. He appears to be trying to appeal to both the pro-agreement camp and the hardliners. At the same time, he's likely sending a message to the United States.
Beppu: There are also voices of dissent in United States. Trump is threatening, as you pointed out, to scrap the agreement and some members of Congress are also unhappy with it. What do you think is going to happen to the agreement?
Shinagawa: It's not clear. On the Iranian side, President Hassan Rouhani may come under fire if ordinary Iranians don't benefit from the lifting of sanctions. That will give the hardliners ammunition to attack the president with. They don't like his openness to dialogue with the international community.
Rouhani is expected to seek re-election next year. There have been reports that his conservative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may try to make a comeback. The fate of the agreement largely depends on who's in charge in each country.