What President Hassan Rouhani calls a “golden page in Iranian history” is more than a matter of subjective reflection. The almost spontaneous response of a regime in a tormented part of the world – since 1979 to be sure – as based on profound empirical evidence. Amidst the turbulence in the Middle East, with its echo in Europe, Sunday&’s twin developments symbolise a rare break of reassuring news, pre-eminently the implementation of the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement matched with the West&’s decision to lift the crippling sanctions. The risk of Tehran producing a nuclear weapon has been staved off; even the risk of surreptitious activity in matters nuclear has been checked by the intrusive inspection powers – a deft balancing act in terms of game-theory.
As critical as the nuclear facet will be the economic impact of the lifting of sanctions, indeed curbs that didn’t quite bring the regime to its knees, but had nonetheless resulted in considerable economic disorder. With the economic sanctions relegated to the footnotes, Iran will be in a position to offer, even tap, a major new market in a stuttering global economy. Most importantly, the deal ought to lend impetus to the agenda of the reformers around President Rouhani. In contrast to the previous theocratic dispensations, the present is anxious to make Iran a more “normal” country, one that ought to be in a position to play a role that is concordant with its rich heritage and immense potential. Unmistakable are the two facets to the “golden page’’ – the Rouhani regime has deferred to the demands of the West and in turn the latter has agreed to lift the sanctions. Thirty-seven years after the Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran, this must rank as a historic instance of forward movement. Well might President Rouhani carry that message of engagement when he visits France and Italy next week.
For all that, it is hard not to wonder if the rapprochement might turn out to be fragile, after all. In parallel with the lifting of nuclear/economic sanctions, another cache of sanctions, if far less punitive, was imposed by the US to penalise Tehran for its violation of UN curbs on ballistic-missile development. Iran&’s dismal human rights record is no less an irritant and Rouhani will have to countenance the contretemps in the structure of governance. Ultimate power in Iran rests not with the President, but the country&’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Substantial therefore is the risk of a hardline faction attempting to undermine the achievement of the moderates. What Barack Obama calls “smart, patient and disciplined” diplomacy is strictly for the international audience. For now, Iran comes in from the cold.