Nuclear Debates in Asia Digest: Asian Powers React to Iran-P5+1 Nuclear Deal
Negotiators from Iran and the so-called P5+1 powers – the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany – announced on November 24 that they reached a deal to address suspicions over Iran’s nuclear activities. In exchange for Iran freezing key elements of its nuclear program, the P5+1 offered $4.2 billion in foreign exchange and to ease some sanctions on Iranian energy and economic sectors for the next six months. The deal aims to be a sign of good faith between all parties as talks on a broader permanent deal continue.
This announcement sparked a dialogue within countries in Asia with their own varying levels of nuclear capacity. Since Iran’s primary foreign buyers of its oil are China, South Korea, Taiwan, India, and Japan, the agreement provides additional avenues for increased energy trade between Asia and Iran. However, the deal also opens up questions about the intersections of nuclear energy, nonproliferation policies, and regional security in Asia. In this Nuclear Debates in Asia Digest by Timothy Westmyer, research and program assistant at RPI, we explore how countries in our Nuclear Debates in Asia project – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam – reacted to the Iran-P5+1 nuclear deal and how they are addressing these pressing questions.
China, India, South Korea, and Thailand were among countries which recently received a waiver from U.S. sanctions targeting countries that import Iranian crude oil because these countries have reduced their dependence on Iranian supplies over the past several months. They will be allowed to continue to purchase Iranian oil over the next 180 days without penalties.
China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, said the agreement “will help to uphold the international nuclear non-proliferation system [and] safeguard peace and stability in the Middle East.”
- -The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang said it was a “mutually beneficial agreement which lives up to the broad expectation of the international community” and that “China will continue to play a constructive role and actively promote peace talks.”
Media outlets in China praised the agreement and identified the next several months as critical time period to see what negotiators can finally accomplish:
- -An editorial by China Daily called the agreement “an important step forward,” but the “next six months will be crucial” and a “test of the political wisdom, patience and sincerity of both countries. It is hoped the two sides will continue to shore up pragmatism and pass the test with good grades.”
- -Before the deal was announced, China Daily called on negotiators to seize a “window of opportunity” for a long term deal since there were “credible signs that an agreement can be reached” between the parties. “Ignoring such a hard-earned window of opportunity, which the Iranians say would not be available indefinitely, does no good to any party.”
Chinese media sources highlighted China’s involvement in the negotiations and the deal’s bearing on regional security:
- -In addition to the China Daily, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) underscored China’s “role as a broker” in the “historic deal,” quoting Hua Liming, China’s former ambassador to Iran, who said “when the two parties came across irresolvable problems, they would come to China, which would ‘lubricate’ the negotiation and put things back on track.”
- -Wang Hui, senior writer with China Daily, touted “the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear issue” as a sign of “how the world order would shift in the future” with less use of “force and imposing sanctions” and more “room for mediating political resolutions to burning regional and global issues.”
- -Xinhua assessed that the nuclear deal with Iran would help resolve the current crisis in Syria. Another Xinhua news analysis suggested that the accord would “open new horizons in Iran’s policies home and abroad.”
India’s Foreign Secretary congratulated the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister on the deal and “conveyed India’s expectation that the agreement would renew the prospect for resolving the Iranian nuclear question through dialogue and diplomacy.” Indian refineries – Iran’s second-largest customer – said they were ready to start transferring the $5.3 billion owed to Iran for past purchases of Iranian crude oil.
Many media outlets and political parties praised the interim agreement as a positive development that could have wider impacts on regional security crises:
- -The Hindu suggested in an editorial the interim deal may have “opened up several issues of the greatest significance to West Asia” where Iran can provide assistance: (1) as a “potentially valuable partner for the United States as Washington prepares to withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan in 2014”; (2) in resolving the on-going civil war in Syria; and (3) in ending sectarian conflict in Iraq. Another editorial in The Hindu stressed that “New Delhi has real stakes in making sure Iran and the P5+1 succeed – and must exercise all the influence it can, to that end.”
- -C. Raja Mohan, a foreign policy analyst with a regular column in The Indian Express, believed a deal between P5+1 and Iran would ultimately benefit India since continued hostilities between those parties “complicated the conduct of Indian diplomacy in recent years, especially in the pursuit of energy security and other regional interests.”
- -The Economic Times declared the result as “great for India” as it allows New Delhi to pay off its debts to Iran. The paper urged leaders to “seize every chance to engage with Tehran,” including returning to negotiations on a Pakistan-Iran-India natural gas pipeline.
- -The Pioneer agreed that the deal was a “major diplomatic breakthrough,” which “is proof of the West’s official acknowledgement of Iran’s right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in keeping with the latter’s international obligations – a position that India has espoused for decades.”
- -In an editorial for its People’s Democracy, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) declared the Geneva agreement as a “diplomatic breakthrough” which could benefit India. The party argued “India can only rue its shortsighted and craven stance” as New Delhi acted “against India’s own interests when it succumbed to the U.S. pressure and voted against Iran in the IAEA.”
Not everyone, however, was wholly optimistic about the agreement:
- -Portraying the deal as a “clear victory for Iran,” Rajesh Rajagoplan, RPI Nuclear Debates in Asia scholar and professor of International Politics at JNU, felt the “long term consequences of this deal are much more hazy and potentially quite dangerous,” especially if nuclear weapons spread in the Middle East. He predicts the “deal is only likely to encourage further proliferation in the region” as Gulf states “will see this as a sell-out” and seek Pakistan’s help in acquiring a nuclear weapon.
- -While saying the agreement is “good news” for Indian leaders seeking energy supplies and recognition of its claims on uranium enrichment, The Business Standard offered several “important caveats” that could derail the deal, including the lack of an inspections regime and opposition from Israel and Gulf states.
Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs welcomed the deal as the “first significant step toward a comprehensive solution of the nuclear issue” and that the agreement will be “implemented immediately.” Their statement noted “Japan will address the issue based on our own position toward the final solution of the Iranian nuclear issue and its implementation in close cooperation with EU3+3.”
- -According to The Yomiuri Shimbun, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met with “his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif” to “ensure freedom of navigation in the Hormuz Strait, through which most oil tankers bound for Japan pass.”
Media outlets in Japan cheered the nuclear deal as a first step, but acknowledged future potential roadblocks as negotiations continue:
- -In an editorial, The Japan Times saw the deal as temporary but the “first concrete result of seven years of negotiations.” Since the interim agreement dodges several contentious issues such as Iran’s claim to having an inalienable right to enrichment and the future of its Arak reactor, the editorial determined “it is all the more important that the future treaty include a clear mechanism that will limit Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful purposes and rule out any possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.”
- -The Asahi Shimbun characterized the deal as a “landmark accord”, but saw significant trials ahead, including reassuring Israel and preventing what the editors characterized as ineffective and destabilizing military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program.
- -An editorial by The Yomiuri Shimbun warned that the “Iranian situation directly affects Japan’s energy security” and advised “Japan should play a proactive role in helping to achieve a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.”
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the deal as a “brotherly neighboring country of Iran,” saying “Pakistan has always underscored the importance of finding a peaceful solution” on Iran’s nuclear program. The ministry went on to hope the agreement would “augur well for peace and security in our region and the world at large.”
Several commentators examined how the interim agreement would influence regional security challenges facing Pakistan:
- -In an op-ed in The News International, Asif Ezdi,former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service, remarked that the agreement “has the potential to become a watershed of historic proportions” with a “big impact” on South Asia. Ezdi advised Pakistan to prepare for the possibility that India will continue its “strategic encirclement” of Pakistan through improved economic and political relations with Iran and Afghanistan.
- -Hasan Ehtisham, a freelance columnist in Pakistan, wrote in the Pakistan Observer that the deal complicates Islamabad’s strong diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. Ehtisham concluded the nuclear deal improves stability in the Middle East and thus Saudi Arabia – who opposes the agreement – will ultimately be less likely to ask Pakistan for help in acquiring a nuclear arsenal of its own. Ehtisham also advises Iranian leaders they “should not forget that contrary to India, Pakistan had inked its economic cooperation with Iran despite stringent sanctions on Tehran,” and Iran should reciprocate.
Other focused on the impact of the deal on a proposed natural gas pipeline and other economic dealings between Iran and Pakistan:
- -While some observers in Pakistan hoped that the agreement allow the pipeline to move forward without objection, the United States has since indicated that it still opposed the project and sanctions relief would not apply to this economic venture.
- –Asif Ezdi, a former diplomat, predicted that even with U.S. sanctions relief for Iran, “there is no guarantee that Washington will automatically give up its opposition” to the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.
- -Nevertheless, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Iran and Pakistan would “fast track discussions” on the pipeline “to formulate a road map and a more realistic time schedule.”
- -Afshan Subohi wrote in Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest newspaper, that the Iranian deal could mean increased economic trade between Iran and Pakistan, but officials in Islamabad still lacked a strategy on how to take advantage of this “window of opportunity.”
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry praised the deal as a “first-step agreement to resolve Iran’s nuclear program” and expected “the agreement to be fully implemented and settle Iran’s nuclear problems in a comprehensive and complete manner.”
While South Korean officials called upon their nuclear-armed neighbors to the north to follow in Iran’s footsteps, several experts doubted that would be the lesson Kim Jong Un would take away from the deal:
- -Yonhap News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry source contending “the progress of Iran’s nuclear case carries significance for North Korea, as it would put pressure on the communist country, which continues to pursue the nuclear option.”
- -This idea was explored in The Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time blog. However, Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, thought Pyongyang will be emboldened given that Tehran has maintained its ability to enrich uranium. “North Korea will keep refusing to budge, and this sets a precedent for why it doesn’t have to,” said Chang.
- -Han Yong-sup, vice president at Korea National Defense University in Seoul, put more cold water on this idea by noting North Korea would continue to see its nuclear program as ensuring the regime’s survival and not give up its weapons of mass destruction like the overthrown and deceased Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised the agreement “to curb Tehran’s nuclear program and loosen the western countries’ economic sanctions on Iran” and that Taiwan “hopes that the agreement will be fully implemented in a peaceful and pragmatic manner, so as to resolve Tehran’s nuclear issue and promote peace and stability in the region.”
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement that “welcome[d] the successful conclusion of the talks” and that it “is incumbent upon all sides to fulfill their commitments in the months ahead.” The statement noted “Thailand views that this agreement is a very important first step towards resolving the long pending Iran nuclear issue, and will contribute to an atmosphere of regional and international peace and stability.”