Today, after a diplomatic path that sometimes felt as endless as a Möbius strip, the P5+1 nations (US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) and Iran reached a historic nuclear agreement. The agreement truly represents the biggest diplomatic achievement of the millennium thus far.
This day would never have happened without a defense of the diplomatic process against a concerted campaign to thwart diplomacy. To every Peace Action West member and anyone else who has taken action to support diplomacy with Iran, today’s victory is yours. Thank you for your steadfast dedication to peace.
The nuclear agreement announced today ensures that Iran will forego the development of nuclear weapons while giving a boost to the Iranian economy through sanctions relief. The deal represents a step forward for nonproliferation and for stability in the Middle East. At the same time, it is a much-needed validation of the diplomatic process. For over a decade there have been calls in the U.S. for war with Iran. The agreement puts us firmly on the path of peace — as long as the agreement is not torpedoed by action in Congress.
The diplomats meeting in Vienna have been engaged in intensive face-to-face diplomacy for over two years. But the international face-off over Iran’s nuclear programs has been brewing for two decades. Beyond even that, the deep-freeze in U.S.-Iranian relationship has been in the making for at least 60 years.
As we celebrate this diplomatic victory it’s worth reminding ourselves how far we’ve come – as well as how far we still have to go to create a sustainable peace by normalizing relationships with Iran. Iranian perceptions of the U.S. bear the deep imprint of U.S. meddling in Iranian affairs that really hit high gear in the 1950s. After Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalized Iran’s oil production in 1951, which had previously been controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC, now British Petroleum), the U.S. looked for ways to undermine Mosaddegh. In 1953, the CIA played a key role in orchestrating a coup that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister, installing in his place Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi who ruled Iran as a monarch until 1979.
In fact, the Iranian revolution and the birth of the current Iranian republic was a largely a response to the oppressive rule of the Shah, who fled the country and sought asylum in the US. When the US refused to extradite the Shah, Iranian protesters stormed the US embassy in Tehran and the Iranian Hostage Crisis began. Trauma begat trauma and a deep imprint on the U.S. body politic and in perceptions of the U.S. public was formed.
Since then the fraught relationship has gone through a number of more recent traumatic episodes. These include U.S. support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, a protracted war that lasted eight years. In that war, Iraq indiscriminately used ballistic missiles and chemical weapons on Iranian forces and civilians and a staggering one million Iranians lost their lives.
This legacy of mistrust has played out in the diplomatic arena largely through the nuclear issue in recent years. Tensions over the Iranian program – and with them the current U.S. sanctions regime — began in the 1990s. The discovery of two new nuclear facilities in Iran in 2002 exacerbated the nuclear conflict. In 2006, the UN began imposing international sanctions on Iran, and tensions continued to mount. Here at home, sanctions bills targeting Iran continued to pass in Congress with nearly unanimous support. And while those in Congress brag about imposition of sanctions bringing Iran to the table, it’s important to note that the years of sanctions left the diplomatic standoff with Iran unaddressed while Iran steadily increased the size of it’s nuclear technology program.
The dynamic changed in June 2013, when the Iranian people elected the reformist candidate, Hassan Rouhani as the new President of Iran. Rouhani was Iran’s top nuclear negotiator during Bush’s presidency, and he ran on the platform of improving Iran’s relationship with the West. Within 6 months of his election, the interim nuclear agreement was signed, and the US and Iran were finally on the path to resolving their problems with each other diplomatically. After 20 months of painstaking negotiations, today’s agreement marks a turning point in our relationship with Iran that will go down in history as one of the most significant turning points in U.S. foreign policy.
Despite numerous comments to the contrary from the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, this deal blocks Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb — should Iran decide to build one. (A decision, we should note, the U.S. intelligence community says Iran has not made.)
Under the deal, Iran will rid itself of 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium, it will decommission roughly two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, it will repurpose the heavy water reactor at the Arak facility so that it cannot be used to produce weapons grade plutonium, and it will allow inspections of its entire nuclear program to guard against any attempts to covertly manufacture a bomb.
Stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons has always been the prime objective of this effort. But the potential benefits of reaching a deal extend far beyond nonproliferation. Obviously, the deal is a major step forward in improving the relationship between Iran and the US. It will increase trade and cultural exchange between the two countries, and it could facilitate a gradual waning of anti-Iranian and anti-American sentiments that have been building for decades. Needless to say, given the decades of mutual animosity peacemakers will need to cultivate and protect the budding shoots of peace.
In improving our relationship with Iran, we have charted a course towards improving the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The partial détente, if handled well, could allow the U.S. to better engage Iran in diplomatic solutions to evolving conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War, the war in Yemen, and the battle against the Islamic State. While an improved relationship will by no means solve these conflicts overnight, it will give us the opportunity to shift our approach to foreign policy away from the coercive and militaristic approach that has led to these conflicts, and towards diplomacy that brings together countries to solve common problems.
Today’s deal is a prism through which light will finally shine on viable, peaceful alternatives to war. If Congress lets it see the light of day, this prism has the potential to usher in a new era of American foreign policy governed by good will and reason, rather than fear and force of habit.
Peace Action West, as part of a broad coalition of organizations supporting this deal, has played a crucial role in protecting this agreement from the relentless barrage of attacks that it has faced from conservative think tanks, the hawkish “pro-Israel” lobby, and neoconservative members of Congress. Peace Action West has generated thousands of e-mails, phone calls, and hand-written letters into Congress in support of the diplomatic process, and lobbied dozens of congressional offices to pressure our elected officials to support the deal. Together, we have effectively countered the media narrative put forward by the anti-Iran diplomacy coalition, and thwarted wave after wave of legislative attempts to derail negotiations.
This is a day for celebrating. This is a day to honor that hard work, intelligence, openness to conflict resolution, and creativity can avert the human tendency towards conflict. I hope all of you who worked towards this day will join us in celebrating the power of peace.