MohammadHassan Khani (source: LobeLog)
Special edition of Tehran's Etemaad daily: The Agreement's Sun Shines on Tehran
(November 24th, 2013)
Although the Nov. 24 Geneva deal between Iran and the 6 world powers known as
the P5+1 was centred around the nuclear issue, its implications go beyond that.
It pushed Tehran and Washington one step closer towards a normalization of
Post-revolutionary Iran has long lived with the conviction that the US knows
Tehran is not willing to develop nuclear weapons and is using that excuse as a
pretext to pressure Iran and isolate it with the possibility of overthrowing the
Islamic state. But now, for the first time, Iran has decided to look beyond
regime change as an US goal and entertain the possibility that the West's real
concern is proliferation.
That might be a good and relatively convincing answer to the big change in
Iran's stance towards the West. The Iranians decided to do their best to talk as
directly as they can, and to behave with maximum possible transparency to remove
any doubt and scepticism in the minds of their adversaries in convincing them
that "we don't want the bomb and we don't need the bomb".
For Iran, this engagement seemed to be a good way to test the honesty and
sincerity of the west. That partially explains the logic of the sequence of
events in Iran during the past six months: the people chose Hassan Rouhani as
their President, Rouhani appointed Mohammad Javad Zarif as the Foreign Minister,
and the Supreme Leader decided to endorse Rouhani and his nuclear negotiation
team without being optimistic about the outcome of the talks. The last two
events happened with one mandate: to test the trustworthiness and intentions of
the west through diplomacy, Persian style.
From Iran's perspective, this new approach is certainly worth trying. If
successful, Iran and the West can put a long history of enmity behind them and
open a new chapter in their relations: a win-win scenario. If unsuccessful, the
West will not be in a position to blame Iran anymore; the Iranians can claim
domestically, regionally, and internationally that they made their best effort
but the US and its allies were not honest and sincere in engaging and abandoning
their hostile policy of regime change.
Iran's strategy involves altering the language through which they have been
talking to the world, being direct and consequently avoiding further
misunderstandings and unnecessary confrontations. After more 34 years of
silence, Zarif's private bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry
and Rouhani's taboo-breaking phone call with President Obama in New York proved
that diplomacy is working. Iran and the West can now understand each other's
language and are capable of forging agreements with the right amount of effort.
Iran, the West and the US in particular share a number of common interests
that need to be examined and realized. Iraq and Afghanistan are obvious points
of rapprochement. Nouri al-Maleki and Hamid Karzai must have felt great relief
in seeing Zarif and Kerry smiling at each other and shaking hands. The post-war
Iraq and Afghanistan have been painfully caught between Iran and the US and the
leaders have been hoping for Tehran and Washington to set aside their
differences specifically on the issues related to their countries. Other nations
that felt the same sense of relief include Japan, Turkey, India, South Korea and
many other Asian and European countries that have been suffering from the
hostility between Iran and the US.
Fighting against extremism, which is now a shared enemy in Syria, can also be
another area of communality between Iran and the US. The above argument doesn't
mean that the two sides are going to be cordial partners or close allies
overnight. But both sides can downgrade the degree of their hostility from being
blind foes to responsible players and rational rivals.
The West and the US must accept that the time for keeping client dictatorial
regimes that follow the West's commands for the sake of staying in power has
expired. Now they must deal with new states in the Middle East whose legitimacy
is based with their own people, a people who crave independence, integrity and
respect while also being rational enough to identify areas of common interest
that will forge a mutual respect for the West. Iran can be a viable partner in
To turn the historical US-Iran diplomatic achievements of the past few months
into desirable, enduring results, it is essential that the US avoid the traps of
short-sighted policies in going forward. The Obama administration must do its
best to encourage Congress to abandon its habit of regarding Iran as a definite
enemy. This requires a new US strategic map in which Iran, with all its rich
cultural, economic and geopolitical attributes, is regarded as a responsible
rational player that can fufill a positive and constructive role in the region
In developing a new regional policy that includes Iran on its side, the US
must demonstrate its good intentions and honesty towards Tehran by recognizing
its inalienable right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, including its
right to enrich uranium.
Pursuing old policies and talking to Iran with the language of the past will
restore Iran's mistrust of the US. In doing so, the U.S. would also forfeit a
historical opportunity to reach a sustainable reconciliation with Iran and the
progressive political Islam it represents. The price of such a mistake would be
high for all sides; the scepticism and cynicism in Tehran would deepen and
become more widespread, freeing up room for those who have always doubted US
intentions. A new generation of anti-West and anti-US revolutionaries would also
The road ahead is surely long and rocky; passing through it requires
prudence, patience and long-term vision. But the fruits of an US-Iran
rapprochement are far greater than the risks involved in getting there. If this
effort is successful, an unnecessary conflict can be transformed into
opportunities for bringing about peace, security and prosperity to a volatile
region suffering from decades of war, violence and instability.
About the author: Dr. Khani is a graduate of the Peace
Studies Department at Bradford University and currently a staff member of the
Faculty of Political Science & Islamic Studies at Imam Sadiq University, Tehran.
He is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Political and International
Studies (IPIS). He can be reached by email hereand here.
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