Opinion/Commentary by R. K. Ramazani (First published by The Daily Progress on January 24, 2016)
Hailing the implementation of the July 2015 agreement in which Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program, Secretary of State John Kerry recalled that there had been no shortage of skeptics: “Iran has undertaken significant steps that many - and I do mean many - people doubted would ever come to pass.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif with the Peace Dove
(cartoon by Keyvan Varessi, Iranian daily Ghanoon)
The election of President Hassan Rouhani and his collaboration with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was a decisive factor in preparing the ground for the agreement, because they had the support of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During the previous presidencies of Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, no Iranian foreign minister would have imagined engaging in such diplomatic agreements, because Khamenei didn’t support them.
On the American side, Secretary Kerry pursued the diplomatic process with courage, stamina and patience. His hardline opponents in the U.S. sought to sabotage his efforts. They believed that Iran would destabilize the region once it gained access to $100 billion in assets that were frozen by the international community when sanctions were imposed against Iran. But Rouhani’s priority is to spend the funds on the social and economic needs of Iran’s 80 million people.
Speaking on Jan. 16 about the agreement’s implementation, President Obama said the release of seven Iranian prisoners who had been accused or convicted of violating sanctions was a “onetime gesture to Iran, given the unique opportunity offered by this moment and the larger circumstances at play.” Ultimately, Mr. Obama concluded that “this was worth doing to bring our people home” - referring to five Americans who were being held by Iran - and that “the risk was not substantial because these Iranians are not individuals related to terrorism or violent crime.”
Like their American counterparts, Iranian hardline critics cast doubt on the feasibility of the nuclear agreement. They might have overestimated the antiAmerican pronouncements of Iran’s supreme leader, such as “death to America” (marg bar America). But neither American nor Iranian rejectionists grasped Ayatollah Khamenei’s solemn agreement with the founding father of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Contrary to the assumption that Khomeini forbade talking to America, he left the door of negotiations with Washington ajar, suggesting Iran’s willingness to resume relations with Washington “if America behaves itself” - that is, if America refrained from attempting to dominate Iran.
Khomeini decided to establish relations with Germany and Turkey in the early days of the Revolution. He said that establishing relations with other countries was compatible with the Islamic prophetic tradition and with Iran’s national interest. Failure to establish relations, he warned sternly,would mean “defeat and annihilation for Iran.”
In his turn, Khamenei declared “the opening of Iranian foreign policy” (darhaye baz shodeh ).
The promise of the nuclear agreement and prisoner exchange might have been dimmed somewhat by the new sanctions announced by the United States hard on the heels of implementation day. Iran’s state media denounced the sanctions on its ballistic missile activities as “devoid of any legitimacy and ethical values.”
But just as implementation day came about despite widespread doubts, it may well be that the two nations will find ways to resolve the issue of missile development. It is reasonable to hope that, long after the current hostility has faded, there may be a new era of mutual engagement and amicable collaboration between the two nations. Both the United States and Iran seek the defeat of ISIS and al-Qaida, the stabilization of Iraq, the ending of the Syrian civil war. These and other mutual interests are the common ground to be forged.
About the autor: Holder of the Thomas Jefferson Award and coeditor of two books on Jeffersonian ideas and the contemporary world, R.K. Ramazani serves on the advisory board of Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and is the Edward R. Stettinius emeritus professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia.
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