Iran gave in to diplomatic pressure over its nuclear program. That’s at least what the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany are celebrating after visiting Tehran Tuesday. But the deal is far from clear-cut.
Is a handshake good enough?
Apparently Europe’s leading diplomats have been able to wring a number of key concessions from Iranian officials regarding the country’s nuclear program. Besides agreeing to stop enriching uranium, Iran has also said it will cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to dispel the concerns that Tehran is using its civilian energy program to make nuclear weapons.
The breakthrough certainly will help avoid a crisis that was threatening to escalate as October 31 neared. It was by that date that Tehran was supposed to sign an agreement allowing IAEA inspectors free and unannounced access to Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Although Europe’s diplomatic efforts and Tehran’s new willingness to cooperate on such issues are welcome, it is strange that the agreement has not yet been signed. In fact, some Iranian officials say it may not even be signed by Oct. 31. The sealing of the deal could even be dragged out until the IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei presents a report to the United Nations on his efforts to get the Iranians to comply on Nov. 20.
Perhaps more ominously, however, there was no promise to refrain from uranium enrichment for good. That could mean that Tehran simply will wait for the next best opportunity to change its mind. Especially since the agreement was only discussed and negotiated with the reformers in Tehran. Iranian conservatives, who were not involved in the talks and have the power to scuttle laws and international agreements, have even recently urged leaving the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
With that in mind, British Foreign Minster Jack Straw was right when he somberly said the success of the European mission to Tehran could only be judged once Iran’s actions followed its words. Accordingly, it was likely too soon to offer Iran concrete technical help in the peaceful pursuit of a civilian nuclear program. That prospect is exactly what the foreign ministers dangled to sweeten the deal for Iran, which complains it is isolated in its nuclear research and development due to American pressure.
Tehran continues to claim it is only seeking new sources of energy, but that is what Washington finds so hard to believe. Following the disastrous results after making similar accusations against Iraq, Washington may now be more willing to see the latest round of diplomacy in Tehran in a more positive light. Even despite the less than tangible results.
Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent.