The case for peace with Iran

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The nu­clear frame­work agree­ment be­tween Iran and the five per­ma­nent UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers (the United States, the United King­dom, France, China, and Rus­sia) plus Ger­many is an im­por­tant achieve­ment in global diplo­macy. The deal an­nounced ear­lier in April rep­re­sents the tri­umph of ra­tio­nal hope over ir­ra­tional fear, and it de­serves to be im­ple­mented. But now the race is on against hard­lin­ers in the US, Iran, Is­rael, and else­where, who want to kill the deal be­fore the dead­line for a fi­nal agree­ment in June.

The frame­work agree­ment benefits all par­ties. Iran scales back its nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties, es­pe­cially the en­rich­ment of ura­nium fuel, in ex­change for an end to eco­nomic sanc­tions. Its gov­ern­ment is kept fur­ther away from de­vel­op­ing a nu­clear bomb – which it de­nies pur­su­ing – and gains room for eco­nomic re­cov­ery and nor­mal­i­sa­tion of re­la­tions with the ma­jor pow­ers.

It is a smart, prag­matic, and bal­anced ap­proach, sub­ject to mon­i­tor­ing and verification. It does not re­quire that the US and Ira­nian gov­ern­ments sud­denly trust each other; but it does of­fer an op­por­tu­nity to build con­fi­dence, even as it al­lows for spe­cific steps that are in each side’s in­ter­ests. Cru­cially, it is part of in­ter­na­tional law, within the frame­work of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

By pro­pound­ing the idea that the other side can never be trusted, the hard­lin­ers are ad­vanc­ing a self-ful­fill­ing the­ory of pol­i­tics and hu­man na­ture that makes war far more likely. Th­ese pur­vey­ors of fear de­serve to be kept on the side­lines. It is time to make peace.

The great divide be­tween the West and Iran to­day, it should be noted, is largely the re­sult of ma­lign West­ern be­hav­ior to­ward Iran (Per­sia un­til 1935) in the past. From the start of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the Bri­tish Em­pire ma­nip­u­lated Per­sia in or­der to con­trol its vast oil re­serves. Af­ter World War II, that job fell in­creas­ingly to the US.

In­deed, from coup to dic­ta­tor­ship to war to sanc­tions, the US has racked up more than 60 con­tin­u­ous years of try­ing to im­pose its will on Iran. The CIA and Bri­tain’s MI6 jointly top­pled Mo­ham­mad Mos­sadegh’s demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment in 1953, in or­der to block Mos­sadegh’s at­tempts to na­tion­alise Iran’s oil re­serves. The US then in­stalled the bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship of Shah Mo­ham­mad Reza Pahlavi, which ruled the coun­try un­til the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion of 1979.

Fol­low­ing the revo­lu­tion, the US helped to arm Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in which an es­ti­mated one mil­lion Ira­ni­ans died. Since 1987, the US has im­posed eco­nomic sanc­tions against Iran on a va­ri­ety of premises, in­clud­ing claims of Ira­nian ter­ror­ism and the al­leged nu­clear threat. And the US has worked hard to in­ter­na­tion­alise th­ese sanc­tions, lead­ing the push for UN mea­sures, which have been in place since 2006.

The US hard­lin­ers have their own long list of griev­ances, start­ing with the 1979 seizure of Amer­ica’s em­bassy in Tehran, in which 66 US diplo­mats and cit­i­zens were held for 444 days. Then there is Iran’s in­volve­ment in Is­lamist in­sur­gen­cies, and its sup­port for anti-Is­rael po­lit­i­cal move­ments and groups deemed to be ter­ror­ist.

Still, the Bri­tish and Amer­i­can abuses vis-à-vis Per­sia and Iran started ear­lier, lasted longer, and im­posed far higher costs than Iran’s ac­tions vis-à-vis the US and UK. More­over, much of what the US cat­e­gories as Ira­nian “ter­ror” is a prod­uct of the re­gion’s sec­tar­ian strug­gles be­tween Shia, backed by Iran, and Sun­nis, backed by Saudi Ara­bia. “Ter­ror” is a term that ob­scures rather than clar­i­fies th­ese long­stand­ing clashes and ri­val­ries. That is why Iran, called a “ter­ror­ist state” by US hard­lin­ers, is now Amer­ica’s de facto ally in the fight against Sunni ji­hadists in Iraq and Syria.

Iran’s con­fronta­tion with the UK and the US is part of the much broader saga of the West’s use of its mil­i­tary and eco­nomic dom­i­nance to project its power and po­lit­i­cal will over much of the world dur­ing the nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­turies. To­day’s low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries are only now en­ter­ing a pe­riod of true sovereignty.

The pro­posed agree­ment with Iran will not over­come a cen­tury of dis­trust and ma­nip­u­la­tion, but it can begin to cre­ate a new path to­ward peace and mu­tual re­spect. Mu­tual ben­e­fit will be achieved by hon­est ap­praisals of mu­tual in­ter­ests, and step-by-step progress backed by verification, not by hard­lin­ers on both sides claim­ing that the other side is pure evil and in­sist­ing on com­plete tri­umph.

The suc­cess of US Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in reach­ing the 1963 Limited Nu­clear Test Ban Treaty, at the height of the Cold War, pro­vides an in­struc­tive les­son. At the time, hard­lin­ers on both sides de­nounced the LTBT as a weak­en­ing of na­tional de­fense in the face of an im­pla­ca­ble en­emy. In fact, both sides fully hon­ored the treaty, and it led to the land­mark 1968 Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty.

JFK’s words a half-cen­tury ago ap­ply to the Iran agree­ment to­day. The LTBT, said Kennedy in 1963, “is not a victory for one side – it is a victory for mankind.” This treaty, he said, “will not re­solve all con­flicts, or cause the Com­mu­nists to forgo their am­bi­tions, or elim­i­nate the dan­gers of war. It will not re­duce our need for arms or al­lies or pro­grammes of as­sis­tance to oth­ers. But it is an im­por­tant first step – a step to­wards peace – a step to­wards rea­son – a step away from war.”

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