This Saturday, a tentative deal was struck in Geneva between the P5+1 nations (the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany) and Iran that marks some of the best progress in decades in terms of an agreement on Iran’s highly contentious nuclear program. In the bargain, intended to be implemented over the next six months, Iran agreed to halt most of its enrichment of uranium and building of centrifuges (used in the process of enriching uranium), in addition to allowing greater access to IAEA inspectors and neutralizing much of its existing stockpiles of enriched uranium. In return, the P5+1 has agreed to provide what the White House called “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief”, while keeping most of the existing sanctions in place. President Obama correctly characterized the deal as the first success in this realm in almost a decade.
The White House was joined in their support of the agreement by much of the international community, including both the EU and UN as a whole. The notable exception was Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the arrangement as a “historic mistake”, likening it to the 2005 agreement with North Korea that failed to pan out. Domestically, the deal has been bashed by Congressional Republicans, who fail to see how it will bring us any closer to a non-nuclear Iran.
Upon examination, though, these criticisms come to naught. In the case of Israel, it’s obvious that they don’t want a nuclear capable Iran, but in no universe will this deal facilitate Iran becoming nuclear capable, as it doesn’t loosen sanctions enough to help Iran on this front. Even if Iran does renege on its side of the bargain, ultimately nothing substantive will have changed; we’ll be back to the old status quo, the one Israel wanted to protect in the first place. Israel simply fears their most important ally becoming anything less than openly hostile towards Iran. Furthermore, the Republicans are clearly politically motivated in their opposition, as evidenced by Texas Senator John Cornyn’s assertion that President Obama manufactured out of thin air a week’s worth of high-stakes talks between the most powerful countries in the world purely in order to take focus off Obamacare’s rough rollout. This opposition does not change the fact that this is, simply put, a good deal, and provides the first glimmer of hope for real change we have seen in years.
Old policies have not worked, and no longer can “more of the same” be the school of thought that holds sway in this arena. Decades of crippling sanctions did not stop North Korea from getting the bomb, and despite the strict sanctions of the past decade, Iran has gone from 164 centrifuges in 2003 to 19,000 today. Sanctions not only often fail to destabilize the regime they target (in fact sometimes having the opposite effect), but they can also have grave humanitarian consequences in terms of their negative impact on the average citizen, as they have in Iran. But despite the historical failings of strict, unmitigated sanctions in these cases, not only are many US Congressmen calling for them, some are very obviously chomping at the bit for actual military action. This cannot be allowed to come to pass. The consensus reached with Iran is tenuous at best, and further saber rattling from anyone is going to do nothing but widen the rift that already exists between the US and its allies and Iran.
As distasteful as it may be to some, to achieve any meaningful, lasting progress in this realm, the US is going to have to back down on some things and actually grant some concessions to Iran, as they have done here. No longer can the US continue its policy of trying to strong-arm other states into dismantling their nuclear program without addressing the issues that made that state want nuclear weapons in the first place- that has not worked with Iran in the past, and it will not work in the future. But that’s the responsibility they’ve brought upon themselves by vocally taking a hardline stance against nuclear proliferation. If the US wants to make real progress with Iran, ideological sacrifices will come first, as it becomes necessary to make concessions to a regime with which they have for so long been at odds. That is what they have begun to do with this deal, and that is why it presents one of the best opportunities for real change in such a long time.
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