Friend, frenemy or foe? How much of a threat is Iran after the nuclear deal?

WATCH ABOVE: A decade ago, it didn’t seem possible but Iran has agreed to limit its nuclear ambitions. In exchange, it will be allowed to re-enter the international community. Jackson Proskow reports

If you listen to President Barack Obama’s camp, the historic deal signed Tuesday is a means to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon and is a step towards improving global security.

If you listen to the anti-deal camp — such as Israel, the deal’s fiercest opponent, U.S. Republicans and the Harper government — Iran can’t be trusted, is a threat to everyone and this is a deal that is only going to bring Iran closer to developing nuclear arms.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal

But if Iran really wanted to get its hand on the bomb, it could have done so by now, said Thomas Juneau — a former analyst with the Dept. of National Defence and an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public Affairs.

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“I think Iran has never wanted to build a bomb,” Juneau said. “The official position of the U.S. intelligence community… is that Iran’s intentions with its nuclear programs, for years, has not been to build a nuclear bomb, it has been to acquire the capacity to build one.”

North Korea, Juneau explained, has a “handful of crude nuclear bombs” that aren’t very advanced while Iran, with a better economy and more resources, has none.

But it’s that example why Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the world should be wary of this pact.

The U.S had the same “hopes and aspirations” for preventing the reclusive nation from developing a nuclear bomb, during the Bill Clinton’s presidency. But Fogel said that only “resulted in an abysmal failure,” with North Korea eventually developing nuclear weapons.

WATCH: Netanyahu calls nuclear deal with Iran ‘stunning historic mistake’

“I’m afraid that this agreement is going to provide Iran with the kind of cover that will allow them to move ahead with their nuclear program without any kinds of constraints imposed by the international community,” Fogel said.

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What Iran and the P5+1 signed up for

In agreeing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, after more than 17 days of negotiations in Vienna, Austria, Iran committed to not seeking to develop or acquire nuclear weapons; reducing its stockpiles of uranium and limit uranium enrichment-related activities; and to allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to conduct thorough investigations of its nuclear facilities.

If it abides by the terms set out in the agreement with the so-called P5+1 nations (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — plus Germany), strict international economic sanctions that have choked Iran’s economy will be eased.

If it cheats and goes against the will of the international community, those sanctions will be imposed again within months.

Read the deal (story continues below)

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But the Canadian government has no intention, at this time, of lifting any of the sanctions it has imposed on the Islamic Republic.

“Iran continues to be a significant threat to international peace and security owing to the regime’s nuclear ambitions, its continuing support for terrorism, its repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, and its disregard for basic human rights,” Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement on Tuesday.

READ MORE: What does the Iran nuclear deal mean for Canadians?

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said all eyes will be on Iran now and urged Canada to work with the U.S. and the European Union “to encourage further reforms.”

“This deal provides greater security for our allies in the region, and brings the world closer to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.”

Did the world just make a deal with the devil?

As Nicholson said in his statement, the deal’s opponents see Iran as a prolific abuser of human rights and a sponsor of terror organizations (Hezbollah, for example) and ally to oppressive regimes (Syria, in particular). They’re not wrong on that front and no one is really arguing that fact, including Dewar and Juneau.

“Iran, they’re not nice guys. They have ambitions in the Middle East that run counter to U.S., Canadian interests [and] to the interests of our allies,” Juneau said. “This deal resolves the nuclear issue. This deal does not lead, in the short term at least, to any kind of reconciliation or grand bargain between the U.S. and Iran.”
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As far as trusting the Iranian government to abide by the agreement, Juneau explained that there’s no way to have “100 per cent certainty” the regime will go behind the backs of the international community and break the rules.

“If Iran absolutely wants to cheat and get a bomb, it will. And nobody can do anything to stop that, including militarily attacking it.”

But that would be a “self-defeating” move, according to Juneau.

“One of Iran’s objectives is to reduce U.S. influence in the Middle East. Obtaining a nuclear bomb would guarantee a very powerful and permanent U.S. presence to counter that Iranian nuclear bomb.”

READ MORE: U.S. pursuing its own interests amid safety worries in Gulf: Iran

The regime would also run that risk of a return to crippling economic sanction — the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — would quickly be put back in place if Iran strays from its commitments.

Still, CIJA’s Fogel thinks the international community needs to follow Canada’s lead on that front and “resist the temptation to relax the sanctions… before Iran demonstrates, in a tangible way, its willingness to translate the agreement into actual deeds and actions.”

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With files from Mike Le Couteur

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