Will Syrian regime benefit from Iran nuclear deal?
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
In view of the close relationship between the Syrian regime and Iran that the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, considered undebatable in his interview with the state-run RT Arabic channel last June, there must be rebounds and repercussions of the developments of the future nuclear deal, regarding which negotiations are currently taking place, on the Syrian regime as well.
Iran’s nuclear project file has been a concern for major nations, prompting the administration of former US President Barack Obama to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran in partnership with France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany.
Under the agreement signed in Vienna in 2015, economic sanctions were lifted in exchange for restricting Tehran’s nuclear activity, but not for long. The administration of former US President Donald Trump announced in May 2018 the withdrawal of the United States from the deal and the reimposition of tight economic sanctions on Tehran, considering the agreement “grotesque and unilateral and should never have been reached,” as Trump put it.
For its part, Iran responded by gradually withdrawing from its nuclear commitments under the agreement, opening the door to a political back-and-forth that has brought the nuclear dossier to the agenda of three successive US administrations until 2022.
During the years of the Syrian Revolution, Iran stood by the regime, using all political, military, and economical means to keep it in power. Despite the failure of the nuclear deal and the return to the series of US sanctions against Tehran, the latter continues to provide the Syrian regime with financial facilities and soft-interest loans granted by banks, financial and banking institutions in one country to customers in another country under the “credit line” label, which topped the talks of the Syrian regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad, during his last visit to Iran last May.
Does the regime benefit?
In light of the intense political movement and the failure of the Vienna talks, the Iranian nuclear team’s media adviser, Mohammad Marandi, announced on 27 June that Qatar would host the talks based on Iran’s choice of Qatar “because it is Iran’s friend.”
The two-day round of indirect talks in Qatar between Iran and the US concluded with European disappointment expressed by the European coordinator for the talks, Enrique Mora, on Twitter on 29 June, when he said, “Two intense days of indirect talks in Doha. Unfortunately, the progress that the European Union team had hoped for as coordinator has not yet been achieved”.
But what would change in the event of an agreement, first for Iran, then necessarily for its ally in Damascus?
The editor-in-chief of the Syrian bi-monthly newspaper İşrak, and Syrian journalist specializing in Iranian affairs, Ahmad Mazhar Sado, stressed in a talk to Enab Baladi that the eventual completion of the agreement was imperative and that the greatest beneficiary would be Iran. The same applies to the Iranian credit line towards Damascus, given that the regime’s treasury is not in its best condition today; the abolition of sanctions means the unfreezing of huge Iranian assets in Western banks.
Sado added that the economic “détente” would have a relative impact on the situation of Iran’s allies in the region, including the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and the Syrian regime.
Given the possibility of creating Qatari communication with the Syrian regime through the Iranian gate close to the two sides, Sado believes that Qatar, which welcomes being the ground for international meetings and a political mediator in international conflicts, will not be prompted to have normal relations with the Syrian regime at present, despite Iran’s proximity to the two sides and its choice of Qatar as the host for negotiations on the nuclear project.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Iraqi political analyst, Omar Abdulsattar, does not foresee quick repercussions that would satisfy the Syrian regime as a result of the potential nuclear agreement, given that “with or without the agreement, al-Assad and Iran are in an unpleasant situation.” Abdulsattar pointed out that improving the Syrian regime’s conditions is not a priority, at least not since the Russian war on Ukraine began in February.
Abdulsattar also referred to Iran’s focus on the Revolutionary Guard and its attempt to remove it from US sanctions regulations through the agreement, which Israel never welcomes, especially in light of the talk about a Middle Eastern alliance to confront Tehran, which means that Iranians are concerned with better things than the Syrian regime.
Back-and-forth to no avail
Iran, which is committed to its nuclear ambitions, raised uranium enrichment to 20 percent in November 2020 after the Iranian Parliament ratified a bill to withdraw from the nuclear deal and officially raise the enrichment rate.
In April 2021, Iran raised its enrichment rate to 60 percent, according to Iranian Assistant Foreign Minister for Political Affairs and Iran’s Chief Negotiator, Sayed Abbas Araghchi.
Enrichment of 60 percent would enable Iran to move rapidly to 90 percent and above the rates required for the use of this raw metal for military purposes. Iran has long denied its intention to acquire nuclear weapons, speaking of a moral and religious prohibition.
Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was reduced by 98 percent to 300 kilograms, a quantity that must not be exceeded until 2031. The stock enrichment level must also be maintained at 3.67 percent, according to the agreement summarized by the BBC.
Iran has a number of nuclear installations and sites involved in the implementation of its ambitious nuclear program, including the Arak Heavy Water Production Reactor, the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, the Gachin Uranium Mine, the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, the Fordo Uranium Enrichment Plant, the Parchin Military Site, and the Natanz Enrichment Complex.
According to the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, responded in August 2021 to the announcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Tehran had put in place a new mechanism to speed up uranium production that his country’s nuclear program and procedures were “in full compliance” with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its obligations under the Safeguards Agreements.
On 29 November 2021, European countries resumed talks aimed at returning to Iran’s nuclear deal. To that end, at least seven rounds of negotiations had been held but without a conclusion. The stalemate has once again topped the scene, particularly after the EU, which is the talks coordinator, announced the suspension of negotiations in Vienna “due to external factors,” noting that the concerned parties would continue to discuss the agreement on 11 March.
On the 14th of the same month, Khatibzadeh stressed that the suspension of the Vienna talks was temporary and did not imply a deadlock, considering that the cessation of the negotiations for time-off came at the request of the Coordinator of the Joint Commission on the Nuclear Agreement. “We will go back to Vienna and hold the last round to reach a good deal,” he said. But the negotiations took a new turn by returning from the Qatari gate without real, tangible progress being made so far.
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