Quite possibly one of the most contentious issues in world politics as of late, the Iranian Nuclear Deal has thoroughly divided Americans. Depending upon the individual you talk to, people have either praised the diplomatic acumen of the Obama administration or likened it to Chamberlain’s appeasement policy towards Hitler. Regardless of the current backlash or approval, the Iranian Nuclear Deal will likely pass senate approval. Since the Iranian Nuclear Deal is one of the most controversial diplomatic agreements, it is extremely important to understand the fundamental driving factors that facilitated a diplomatic discussion in the first place. First, I will approach the subject through the very beginnings of historical conflict between Iran and the U.S. and then I will discuss the negotiations that led up to the deal itself. Additionally, it is important to note that this summary of history will not be all encompassing (volumes could be written about Iranian and American negotiations let alone a single blog post). My goal is to not promote one side versus the other but to relay an objectivist assessment of history and the negotiations that produced the deal.
At best the relationship between Iran and America can be described as tumultuous. As anyone who has seen the critically acclaimed movie Argo can attest to the hostilities between both states. Substantial American involvement in Iranian affairs did not occur until the mid twentieth century. With the Cold War heating up, many American leaders became concerned about the rise of communism and the stability of democracy. During the 1950’s Iran nationalized its oil production under the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Cautious that the Prime Minister had communist sympathies and that Western business’ hold over the region’s oil was at stake, the United States and the United Kingdom chose to intervene. As a result, this gave birth to Operation Ajax in 1953, which involved a CIA coup to oust Mohammad Mossadegh and restore the Shah to ruling power. Since the operation was a success, the new government was pro-Western and was led by the formerly exiled Shah and Prime Minister Fazlollah.
Unsurprisingly, the new leader of Iran was wildly unpopular with the people. In an effort to consolidate rule, the Shah chose to implement a secret police force, which led to great civil unrest. After a slow boil of discontent, the Shah was forced out of rule after more than two decades as leader. What followed was the rule of the fundamentalist Islamic leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who returned from exile. Although the Shah was exiled from Iran, his importance would pop up again during the Iran hostage crisis. As a result of the United States providing medical care to the Shah, anti-American sentiment flared up. Militant youths stormed the U.S. embassy in Iran and took more than sixty American hostages in 1979. After intense negotiations, the Iran Hostage Crisis ended in 1980 with all of the hostages safely returning home. After this tumultuous era in foreign relations, the United States imposed numerous economic sanctions both during and after the Iranian Hostage Crisis. This ultimately culminated with the U.S. imposing even more sanctions on Iran for allegedly partnering with terrorism groups.
Clearly, it comes as no surprise why relationships between both states have been strained. In the early twenty first century, nuclear development became the main issue of Iran and the world. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was interested in investigating whether or not Iran was pursuing bomb construction. As a result, there was a “back and forth” between the U.N. investigatory committee either getting access or being denied in investigating Iran’s nuclear program. Throughout this time Iran has stressed that its nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes and that they were not interested in crafting a bomb. Regardless of Iran’s intentions, it is obvious that diplomatic action had to occur in order to impose restrictions and checks on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
This finally leads us to the actual negotiations themselves. Technically, the negotiations can be traced back to September 2013 when both Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian U.N. ambassador Zariff informally exchanged some words about negotiating a possible deal. After this meeting, the Security Council, being predominantly led by the United States, began formal negotiations. To describe these negotiations as heated would perhaps be an understatement. The fragility of negotiations was woefully apparent from the beginning due to both parties standing unwavering in their ability to refuse compromise. One state department official referred to the negotiations as, “…two sides banging their heads against each other”. This period of time was rather consistent throughout the lead up to the final break through. During the period of talks in Vienna, the deadline had to be extended at least three times, due to the contentious atmosphere. Finally, in July negotiations were finalized and a deal was struck between the Security Council powers and Iran.
This all leads us to today and assessing the deal itself. The solution has a variety of stipulations including, giving the IAEA authorization to inspect Iranian Nuclear facilities, lifting of sanctions against Iran (after full cooperation is monitored by the IAEA), and reducing Iran’s uranium stockpile down 98%. The White House states that the deal will extend the “break out time” for a bomb (if Iran suddenly decided to create one) to a year as opposed to a few months. However, Iran could effectively challenge IAEA investigations and not all investigations are guaranteed under the deal. Many Iranians hail ambassador Zarif as a hero for being instrumental in the Iranian Nuclear Deal and working to end American sanctions.
With this being said, here are a few of my own personal impressions. First, it must be commended that negotiation was sought in the first place (regardless of whether it is deemed successful or not) as opposed to military action. Additionally, it is important to note that if need be, America could take a more militaristic approach. Obama never declared that the military option is off the table even with the deal in the process of validation. Lastly, I admire the fact that diplomats from countries with a very different set of ideals actively worked to create a peaceful solution.
Whether or not this solution is effective is something that will be discussed at the forthcoming Reiff Center event, “The Iran Deal: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, September 10 at 7 pm in the Ferguson Center Music and Theatre Hall at CNU.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.