Strengthening the nuclear potential of individual countries has always been the subject of not only economic but also political discussions. World governments’ close attention to the problem of increasing the power of numerous states has more than once been a pretext for geopolitical conflicts. Recognizing the threat posed by the possession of stockpiles of nuclear products, many countries have already entered into disarmament agreements. However, the situation in the Middle East, namely in Iran, remains tense, largely due to the lack of agreement between the local government and Western representatives. Iran’s nuclear program is often discussed at global political forums. The signing of the deal, which initially aimed to remove large stocks of uranium from the country in exchange for the lifting of external sanctions, could have serious consequences. The government of the UAE, a country separated from Iran only by the Persian Gulf, is rightfully worried about the potential consequences of such a deal. This work is aimed at describing the general course of development of the Iranian nuclear program and assessing the prospects for signing the nuclear deal for the UAE.
The Iran Nuclear Program History
The nature of Iran’s current nuclear program is largely determined by the policy developed back in the Shah period. In 1979, during the Islamic Revolution, the Shah was overthrown, and the new Iranian government abandoned the nuclear power plant construction program (Khokhar, 2021). Not only foreign specialists left the country but also a large number of Iranians who participated in the nuclear project. In 1992, an agreement was signed between Russia and Iran on cooperation in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy (Khokhar, 2021). This was aimed at promoting several areas: the use of nuclear technologies in medicine, agriculture, industry, fundamental research in the field of nuclear physics, and other significant projects. The United States, in turn, regularly accused Iran of secretly working on the creation of nuclear weapons. Western leaders tried to isolate Iran internationally to prevent that country from building a nuclear bomb.
Attempts to improve relations based on deterrence of nuclear potential were made. In 2015, an agreement between several influential states was signed, including Iran, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (Robinson, 2022). It ordered the country to get rid of a significant share of nuclear power in exchange for the lifting of previously imposed sanctions. However, in 2018, a turning point came when then-US President Donald Trump signed an executive order pulling the country out of the deal due to Iran’s repeated breach of the agreement (Robinson, 2022). Contradictions between the Western and Eastern countries continued to exist, and although Iran did not refuse the deal, the state systematically violated its terms, not limiting uranium mining. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the situation has become even more ambiguous due to the growing geopolitical conflict and tensions between Russia and the United States (Robinson, 2022). At the moment, attempts to create a stable basis for the implementation of the deal are ongoing, but there is no guarantee that both parties will address their obligations in full.
Terms of the Deal from Both Western Sides and Iran
For Iran, specific steps are prescribed under the provisions of the deal. One of the main conditions is the export of enriched uranium abroad to avoid the accumulation of a dangerous stock of nuclear potential in the country. Western partners’ observation of Iran’s achievements in this area is also part of the agreement. The country has the right to retain nuclear facilities, but some plants must receive the status of research institutes without the capacity to work with nuclear stock (Mirza et al., 2022). The IAEA, as the main curator of the deal, has the right to gain access to all nuclear facilities in the country for 20 years (Mirza et al., 2022). The move allows the organization to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.
The Western bloc also has several obligations under the terms of the deal in question. The sanctions of the United States, the European Union, and the UN Security Council should be lifted after the conclusion of a comprehensive treaty on Iran’s nuclear program (Batmanghelidj & Rouhi, 2021). In addition, the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran is not allowed. The country reserves the right to regard the socio-political restrictions on the part of Western states as a reason to terminate its obligations (Batmanghelidj & Rouhi, 2021). Moreover, in case the United States withdraws from the deal again, as happened in 2018, a fine for the country will be determined (Batmanghelidj & Rouhi, 2021). These mutual obligations are the basis for compliance with the terms of the deal.
Impacts on the UAE
For the UAE, which is concerned about the determination of the neighboring country to maintain nuclear capabilities, a direct threat comes from a possible military conflict in the nearby area. The situation remains unstable due to geopolitical disagreements, namely, Iran’s unwillingness to return three islands in the Persian Gulf to the UAE. As Javed and Ismail (2021) argue, the decision taken by Iran regarding a possible deal can critically affect the national security of the UAE. Even despite the lifting of sanctions by the Western bloc, the Iranian authorities do not deviate from the course of strengthening their nuclear potential.
In the absence of adequate negotiations involving the US and major European powers, the escalation of conflict in the Middle East is a potential prospect due to Iranian leaders’ dissatisfaction with the existing barriers. The UAE can be directly affected, not only due to its territorial proximity but also as a strategic partner of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some other Asian states that condemn Iran’s nuclear program. Strengthening national security through engagement with allies could be costly for the Emirati government. Therefore, even if the deal is signed, there is no guarantee that the country will be able to address its geopolitical interests and keep its borders secure.
Options for the UAE and Measures to Take
To protect its national security and exclude external threats from an unwilling Iran to comply with the principles of the nuclear deal, the UAE can take into account the experience of other countries. For instance, Ziabari (2022) notes Israel’s activities and argues that the country has never sought to resolve contentious issues related to geopolitical balance through diplomatic settlement. The Prime Minister of Israel sees the UAE as a strategic partner and, despite past disagreements, is ready to cooperate, and real steps have already been taken, for example, the opening of airspace (Ziabari, 2022). Therefore, against the backdrop of a common threat, partnerships can be an essential decision.
The experience of Saudi Arabia can also be useful as an alternative solution for the UAE. Riyadh is actively engaged in trade cooperation with Washington in the field of oil production, which allows it to maintain favorable relations with the Western bloc and count on support in case of an Iranian threat (Ziabari, 2022). The policy of Qatar, another Middle Eastern party, involves a mediating relationship between the US and Iran. Without openly supporting either side, Doha remains neutral, thereby averting the threat from itself (Ziabari, 2022). Such a position can be controversial, especially in the context of a potential military conflict. Nevertheless, having alternatives for interaction, the UAE should, first of all, secure its national interests and only then establish cooperation with other countries.
The history of the development of the Iranian nuclear program includes numerous disagreements with world countries, especially with the Western bloc. In an attempt to limit the stocks of nuclear potential in the Middle East region, the US and its partners were ready to reduce the corresponding stocks in Iran in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Despite the lengthy discussion period, the deal has not been signed yet, and the previous US withdrawal from the agreement was a barrier. For the UAE, the consequences may be dangerous since the relations between the neighboring states have always been tense, and the situation is exacerbated by geopolitical conflict over disputed territories. The experience of other countries, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, can be useful for the UAE. Ensuring national security through strategic partnerships is one of the primary tasks to implement.
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Javed, H., & Ismail, M. (2021). Iran’s nuclear deal (JCPOA): Threats and opportunities for the regional peace and security. Chinese Political Science Review, 1-17.
Khokhar, R. A. (2021). Iran’s nuclear program. CISS Insight Journal, 9(1), P52-69.
Mirza, M. N., Abbas, H., & Qaisrani, I. H. (2022). The Iranian nuclear programme: Dynamics of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), American unisolationism and European apprehensions. Journal of European Studies, 38(01), 14-32.
Robinson, K. (2022). What is the Iran nuclear deal? Council of Foreign Relations. Web.
Ziabari, K. (2022). Iran nuclear deal: Will Qatar’s intermediary role salvage the accord? Middle East Eye. Web.