Until the very last minute, the outcome of one of the most tortuous diplomatic negotiations of recent times — the P5 plus 1 – Iran nuclear accord — was far from certain. Still, it is an important but interim step. The framework agreement has now to be put on paper in the form of a final document by the end of June. Regardless of the naysayers in a few world capitals, the international community has generally welcomed the framework agreement which should lead to a lasting accord.
Throughout the period of negotiations lasting many years, Iran has insisted that it did not want to develop nuclear weapons. This assertion had many sceptics who did not believe it. To be accurate many in Tehran paid back the compliment to the United States and other western countries by likewise not believing the bona fides of U.S. statements. Mistrust begets mistrust. The chasm of mistrust between Iran and the U.S.-erstwhile staunch allies — in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution — proved to be both unbridgeable and enduring.
Both Washington and Tehran will have to work to repair this breach which is as much a product of differing world-views as well as a psychological deficit. Much the same issues confronted the U.S. – China rapprochement put in place by Nixon’s historic outreach to Beijing in 1972. It took a few decades of assiduous diplomatic work by American and Chinese statesmen to repair the yawning gap between the ideological foes. In the end both countries softened their stance enough to gradually develop mutually beneficial relations.
American career diplomat and China hand Nicholas Platt, has written a fascinating account in his book China Boys about how the Sino-American relationship was repaired. I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to the current crop of American and Iranian officials some of whom may not have had occasion to read it so far. The book provides an absorbing account of how the U.S. and China methodically and step by step, undertook the task of putting aside decades of rancor. The will and desire was palpable to open a new chapter in the relationship free of the mistrust, bitterness and animosity which the Communist revolution of 1949 in China had engendered between the previous allies.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 produced a similar clouding of the previous coziness which prevailed between the two countries, ever since the U.S. and Britain enthroned Reza Pahlavi as the Shah (king) in 1941 after peremptorily removing his father from the Peacock throne. Hopefully, American and Iranian statesmen will start the long and sometimes arduous journey of repairing their relations and putting them on an even keel. Both countries will gain immeasurably if they succeed in this endeavor.
I can understand why Netanyahu’s Israel and King Salman’s Saudi Arabia are deeply unhappy at an event which President Obama — rightly in my view — has termed “transformative.” Both countries fear an Iran emerging from the shadows to occupy what it considers its rightful place among the influential nations in the Middle East. Israel and Saudi Arabia for their own reasons wanted the status quo to continue whereby Iran would remain a bottled up pariah.
President Obama has had the gumption to realize that an Iran accepted inside the tent would be more amenable to abiding by internal norms of conduct than a sanctioned and isolated Iran. Obama must also have learnt that Iranian youth who constitute a majority of Iran’s population, have pro-American leanings. The U.S. has thus been correct in disregarding the broadsides fired against Washington by Riyadh and Tel Aviv. Here we should not forget that the interim accord has the imprimatur of not only the United States but also all the other members of the UN Security Council, namely Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany. It is unlikely therefore that all these countries have made a collective mistake in agreeing to the interim accord.
I am not so sure why the Republican-controlled Congress has signaled its suspicion and hostility toward the nuclear accord. Be that as it may, I am sanguine that both the majority of Americans and Iranians favor an accord under which Iran will not be able to produce a nuclear weapon without the international community through the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), detecting the action and taking appropriate counter measures. I believe that the U.S. Congress notwithstanding its partisan reaction to the nuclear accord today will come around with more information available to it, to accept a treaty which benefits the U.S., Iran and indeed the entire international community. Nixon’s opening to China also had its Congressional detractors. But hardly any one remembers them today. Perhaps the current Congressional opponents of the nuclear accord will be similarly eclipsed with the passage of time.