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03/14/13

The Promise of Almaty

By Omid Irani

Could the Almaty talks have been the turning point the international community has so long been yearning for?

“Useful” and “realistic” are two words not generally used when characterizing Iranian nuclear negotiations, yet that’s exactly how American and Iranian officials labeled the Almaty talks that concluded on February 27th. Walking away from Kazakhstan, there appears to be a blooming, yet remote, possibility that Iran and the world powers have struck a common cord with an agreement on new rounds of auspicious talks in the coming months. International statesmen directly involved with the negotiations have privately expressed a measured sense of hopefulness that the most recent round of talks might possibly lead to the elusive concessions both parties have long been waiting for since the escalation of this diplomatic row. Such a small-scale agreement among the two parties is a well-deserved sight for sore eyes.

With renewed talks scheduled for March and April, the P5+1 and Iran seem to be heading toward an unprecedented and publicized diplomatic route which is the only legitimate way to handle an issue of this magnitude. Yet, as this precious flame of diplomatic opportunity weakly flickers in its infancy, the immediate threat of its extinguishment is ever-present as a result of the violent winds fanned by pro-Israeli lobbyists, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Foundation for Defense of Democracy (FDD), who detest any proposition of non-aggressive measures pertaining to Iran. Much to the dismay of rational thinking high-level officials, immediately following the groundbreaking talks in Amlaty, Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and his equally hawkish House colleague, Eliot Engel (D-NY), introduced yet another hard-line bill against Iran, adding to their ever-growing anti-Iran legislative history. The proposed bill would seek to strengthen existing sanctions against the Iranian government, with measures that, if passed, would essentially position Iran face-to-face with a comprehensive commercial and financial embargo. Sadly, these two legislators and all those who so strongly advocate for Iranian sanctions are either ignorant of history or simply refuse to learn from it. If such esteemed individuals reapportioned a remote amount of their time away from their perpetual Iran-bashing, they would come to the conclusion that sanctions did not deter Cuba, North Korea, Pakistan, India and pre-US invasion Iraq from pursuing their domestically developed agendas.

Punctuating sanctions’ ineffectiveness, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and many of his fellow influential policymakers have publicly rebuked renewed American economic restrictions referring to them as “a gun to [their] heads.” Despite such staunch resentment toward these measures, Iran was still, surprisingly, willing to cooperate with the P5+1’s demands and protract the Almaty talks for more meetings anticipating an appropriate resolution. Talks of intensifying punitive measures against Iran at such a fragile junction threatens to unravel the very foundation established during the two-day talks and could potentially alienate Iranian leadership from talks for good, forcing their hand to acquire a nuclear warhead.

As a second-term president, Mr. Obama finds himself comfortably situated in a very favorable circumstance permitting him to tackle head-on what many regard as the United States’ most pressing foreign policy issue. Immune to the election cycle’s constant scrutiny, President Obama must invest a large portion of his political capital in an effort to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue once and for all, giving future administrations an opportunity to allocate their time, capital, and personnel to more pressing and tangible threats such as the rise of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic Maghreb as well as newly emerging dangers stemming from the deteriorating Syrian conflict which all threaten to disrupt the stability of the region, not to mention the 65 year-old plight of Palestinians who continue a life in constant limbo and uncertainty.

In Tehran, officials need to come to terms with realizing that the current American administration is the single most friendly president and cabinet to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since the overthrow of the Shah. Shortly after winning his historic presidential bid in 2008, President Barak Hussein Obama went so far as to offer a new direction in American-Iranian relations announcing the United States seeks engagement with Iran that is “honest and grounded in mutual respect.” Such language is a sharp departure from the pugnacious language of the Bush administration which infamously branded Iran as part of the “axis of evil.”

President Obama, flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, offers Iran the greatest possibility for a peaceful resolution to this often hostile predicament. Despite ratcheting up sanctions which have decimated Iranian exports, the rial’s value, and the attainability of medical resources, this administration has, on numerous occasions, attempted to engage the Iranians through diplomatic channels in the face of public and private pressure not to do so. In what can best be described as an unimaginable offer during the Bush era, Vice President Biden recently proposed the idea of unconditional unilateral talks to Iran in hopes of relaxing the tension between these two feuding nations, a course then Senator Hagel strongly urged President Bush to pursue in 2007 to no avail. President Obama’s recruitment of a man with an extensive track record of lucidity and rationality towards Iran speaks volumes about his intentions in the coming years. Iran ought to read the tea leaves and truly embark on a committed path of negotiations with the United States, provided the latter also acts in good faith, as the current atmosphere seems to provide everyone with the most optimal window for a resolution.

The P5+1 and Iran must responsibly seize this rare opportunity and wisely establish a precedent for which consensual reductions in animosity and hostility, both overt as well as covert, becomes a long-term staple in dealings with one another. For too long, the route of coercion and intimidation has been used relative to Iran yielding no desirable outcome, conversely, at this time a more mature and established approach is slowly taking shape in the form of talks which are delightfully void of previous absolutist demands and rejectionist ideologies.

After countless squandered negotiations, emerging optimism of bilateral concessions may seem to be a discernible reality, albeit slowly. At a time when international sanctions are visibly crippling the Iranian economy, leadership may be hospitable to a scenario whereby it can save face by preserving its entitlement to harness nuclear energy, while simultaneously, alleviating a bulk of its privations. With ostensible domestic strife among the political hierarchy tarnishing the Iranian image at home and abroad Mr. Khamenei must judiciously weigh his options to attain a resolution to this decades-old standoff which re-invites Iran into the community of nations.

Omid Irani is a student at Seton Hall University pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in History. He has written several articles analyzing Iran’s nuclear issue with respect to U.S. and international sanctions thereon. He can be reached at Omid484@aol.com

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