Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why the ‘historic’ agreement with Iran is mainly just good for business. Which is what it was all about, really

If you follow the news at all, you can’t have missed all the hoo-ha about the recent ‘historic’ agreement between Iran and the West, but it was – to me, at least – quite noticeable that details of what exactly had been historically agreed were quite sparse.

There was a certain amount of spurious drama about it all, what with the talks apparently coming to naught a few weeks ago, to everyone’s disappointment and the finger being pointed at the French for being pernickety, then out of the blue came the breakthrough, and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and our very own Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as their counterparts from Germany, Russia, China and someone described as ‘Baroness Catherine Ashton’ dropped everything, grabbed their toothbrushes and took the first flight out to Geneva for an historic photo opportunity, sorry, make that ‘agreement’.

When news of the ‘breakthrough’ came through, I was rather baffled as to what had actually been achieved, because apart from being told the ‘agreement was historic’ and that ‘sanctions would be partially lifted’, no on actually said what had been historically agreed. To make it all the more confusing, on the one hand Iran’s foreign minister Abbas Araqchi immediately announced that agreement was a great deal for Iran in that the West had agreed to loosen sanctions and that it could carry on enriching uranium, although to a lesser degree than it had done so far; on the other hand John Kerry announced that it was a great deal for the West because as it had agreed to loosen sancstions, Iran had agreed to give up enriching uranium completely.

Well, they couldn’t both be right, I thought, and why haven’t news reports highlighted the discrepancy (which they hadn’t – they were spending far too much time trying to persuade us how ‘historic’ it all was and that now, surely to goodness, there was certainly no reason why everyone shouldn’t start sending each other Christmas cards and start going to each other’s drinks parties again (which is what diplomats do, apparently). But I was still puzzled.

The question remained stubbornly unanswered: what had, in fact, been agreed after all those high-level, late-night talks in Geneva? I was doubly intrigued when yesterday I came across an interesting news report on Der Spiegel’s online site, the first sentence of which ran: ‘Der Durchbruch im Atomstreit mit Iran lässt die Deutsche Industrie jubeln: Maschinenbauer, Chemiebetriebe und Zulieferer der Auto- und Flugzeugindustrie hoffen auf gute Geschäfte. Doch sie bekommen Konkurrenz von unerwarteter Stelle: Auch US-Firmen wollen profitieren.’ Loosely translated: The breakthrough in the row with Iran about uranium enrichment has got German industrie cheering: machine manufacturers, chemical works and car and aircraft industry suppliers are hoping to do good business. But they face competition from an unexpected source: US companies want some of the action’. You can read the report for yourself here.

Put aside the Spiegel’s apparent surprise that competition from US companies was ‘unexpected’ (was it really ‘unexpected’ and why is the Spiegel surprised?), here you have in black and white why after several years of sanctions the West and Iran suddenly found themselves able to reach a ‘historic’ agreement with which everyone is happy.

We have been getting news reports since the sanctions were imposed how they were biting, prices were rising ever higher and inflation was growing sharply, and even that if the shortage of goods caused by the sanctions worsened, there might even be civil unrest. But when I read that Spiegel story it all became very clear to me indeed: it wasn’t just Iranians and Iranian companies who were suffering. So were a great many firms in the West (and probably China). Bugger whether the Iranians were or were not building nuclear weapons, the sanctions were increasingly bad for business. And I don’t doubt that they all informed their respective governments as much in no uncertain terms.

Is that too cynical an interpretation? Not at all: as George Bernard Shaw put it very succinctly: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. Or here’s Ambrose Bierce’s take on such cynicism: a cynic, he says is ‘a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are not as they ought to be’.

It was then that I decided to try to track down what was in the agreement. It didn’t take too long, although the so-called ‘serious’ journalists on the BBC website, The Telegraph and the Guardian didn’t bother recording it. Finally, I find it – or rather a link to a pdf of its text – on the Financial Times website. You can read the ‘historic’ agreement for yourselves here. It didn’t knock my socks off, but there again, at least its back to business as usual for those who care about such things.

PS Sunday, Dec 01: At least we can be reassured that our governments aren’t in danger of doing something wildly out-of-character and risking the status quo.

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