Editorial: As sanctions on Iran are lifted, situation must not deteriorate

The international community has finally removed a thorn that has been stuck in its paw for some time. In line with the nuclear deal struck with Iran, the United States and European countries have lifted the long-running sanctions that have weighed heavily on the Middle Eastern nation.

U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders praise this deal as a historic development. The fact that diplomatic efforts have ended the country’s ambitions to pursue nuclear arms is a significant achievement. The agreement made with Iran could serve as a model for responding to the nuclear aims of North Korea, which carried out its fourth nuclear test earlier this month.

We must not forget, however, that there are still a variety of issues to address and the situation with Iran must be monitored closely to ensure that it abides by the agreement.

Meanwhile, business communities around the world have welcomed the lifting of sanctions. Iran is a resource-rich country with a large population of young people. The automobile and home appliance industries in Japan see Iran as a promising market. The possibility also exists for Japan to export railway and other elements of infrastructure to Iran.

On the other hand, the rapid development of closer ties between the United States and Iran has brought about unexpected consequences. Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, has now severed diplomatic ties with Iran. It may be difficult for Saudi Arabia to accept improving relations between the U.S. and Iran because its own relationship with Iran has long been tense. It is unfortunate that conditions in the Middle East have been adversely affected by the nuclear deal.

There is also concern that the deal may have an unfavorable effect on the oil industry. If Iran, one of the major oil-producing countries, resumes exporting oil, oil prices could decline further. This is good news for Japan, which depends on imports for such resources, but the fall in price might also have a negative impact on the world’s stock markets.

Still, the nuclear deal is of great significance in that diplomatic efforts have contributed to nuclear non-proliferation. If Iran had indeed armed itself with nuclear weapons, this could have triggered a domino effect with neighboring countries seeking their own nuclear arsenals as well.

We must not allow these current conditions to deteriorate. In the long run, stability in the Middle East can be realized if the international community keeps a watchful eye on the region and prevents the pursuit of nuclear arms development. This is a crucial stage we now enter.

Even after the nuclear deal is concluded, Iran will keep its uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies. These technologies are used for producing nuclear energy, but could be used for developing nuclear arms, too. This is why some are suspicious that Iran might again pursue its nuclear weapons program in the future. It is vital to ensure that Iran understands, through ongoing dialogue, that if it returns to its former nuclear ambitions, the nation and its people will once again suffer from sanctions.

The shape of Iran’s political regime in the future is another source of concern. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has struck a negative posture toward improving the country’s relationship with the United States, even after the agreement was made. Also, in the wake of the deal, Iran carried out ballistic missile launch tests last October and November, which means the country’s hard-liners are still pressing to expand their military might. If such provocative moves continue, this could lead to a breakdown in trust with the international community. Tehran must hold this firmly in mind.

The U.S. attitude is also important. The nuclear deal with Iran was led by President Obama, and it has faced sharp criticism from members of the opposition Republican Party. Even Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. Secretary of State and a Democratic presidential candidate, expressed skepticism over Iran’s promises.

But since most of the world welcomes the lifting of sanctions on Iran, the United States must carry out its duty to join hands with other countries and call on Iran to comply with the agreement.

Japan will lift its sanctions after the United States and other nations take this step. Japan must not look only at the immediate business opportunities available, but should also pursue steady efforts to help resolve lingering issues involving Iran.

(Originally published on January 19, 2016)