As Iran and the United States inch closer to a nuclear agreement, the Arab states in the Persian Gulf are pressuring the United States to increase security assistance and commit to their political security. President Obama has invited the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to Washington for a security summit to assure them that a nuclear deal with Iran will not undermine their security. But for these Arab monarchies the enemy they should fear most isn’t Iran but their own people and popular rule. No matter how much military assistance they get from the United States, conventional military capabilities will not help them repress domestic discontent and dissatisfaction. As President Obama elaborated in his interview with Tom Friedman of the New York Times: “The conversations I want to have with the Gulf countries is, first and foremost, how do they build more effective defense capabilities,” the president said. “I think when you look at what happens in Syria, for example, there’s been a great desire for the United States to get in there and do something. But the question is: Why is it that we can’t have Arabs fighting [against] the terrible human rights abuses that have been perpetrated, or fighting against what Assad has done? I also think that I can send a message to them about the U.S.’s commitments to work with them and ensure that they are not invaded from the outside, and that perhaps will ease some of their concerns and allow them to have a more fruitful conversation with the Iranians. What I can’t do, though, is commit to dealing with some of these internal issues that they have without them making some changes that are more responsive to their people.”……One way to think about it, Obama continued, “is [that] when it comes to external aggression, I think we’re going to be there for our [Arab] friends — and I want to see how we can formalize that a little bit more than we currently have, and also help build their capacity so that they feel more confident about their ability to protect themselves from external aggression.” But, he repeated, “The biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading. It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries. Now disentangling that from real terrorist activity inside their country, how we sort that out, how we engage in the counterterrorism cooperation that’s been so important to our own security — without automatically legitimizing or validating whatever repressive tactics they may employ — I think that’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s one that we have to have.”
In this poignant article, a Christian mother talks about how her daughter’s Muslim faith is making her see a different side of America: “People stare as we tell our daughter Alana goodbye at the John Wayne Airport in California. Alana is a Muslim, and her head scarf turns heads every time. Alana laughs to lighten the moment. “Oh, I hate airports,” she whispers to me. “As soon as I get on a plane, I know what people are saying, “Oh, God. A Muslim!” Read Full Article Here.
As Iran and members of P5+1 move closer in signing a nuclear accord with Iran, the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is paramount in monitoring and verifying Iran’s commitments and obligations. According this analysis, “the fact sheet released by the US State Department regarding the Plan of Action places the agency squarely in charge of verification, calling for the agency to, inter alia: have access to both declared and undeclared facilities through Iran’s implementation of an Additional Protocol; provide “continuous” monitoring of the removal and storage of centrifuges; investigate suspicious sites or allegations of covert facilities anywhere in the country; and continue its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program…..The agency is the only international, technical organization capable of this kind of nuclear stock-taking and verification, and it possesses experience in dealing with extraordinary situations—witness its roles in South Africa and Iraq.”
By Roger Shanahan, The Australian, May 9, 2015
“”In one Middle Eastern country, the practice of any religion other than Islam is banned, women are not allowed to drive, the screening of films is forbidden, there are no elections and last year 87 people were publicly beheaded.
In the other, religious minorities have seats reserved in parliament, and churches, synagogues and Zoroastrian temples to pray in, there are three female vice-presidents in the government, the country’s film directors have a worldwide reputation and one of its films won an Oscar in 2012, parliamentary and presidential elections take place, and the state does not behead people.
Yet the former country is a close ally of the West while in the past the latter has been labelled part of the “axis of evil” by the US.” Read the Full Article Here.
For many observers of Iran it is hard to fathom that a country under severe international sanctions can also be the hottest market for luxury cars in the Middle East. According to one report, “Maserati and Porsche sell more cars in Tehran than in many metropolitan areas in the United States or the European Union.”
Parivash Akbarzadeh, 20, has drawn scorn in Iran after the crash of a luxury car she was driving killed her and the car’s rich young owner, Mohammad Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi.
But the recent fatal crashes have revealed another side of Iran: A country in which the gap between rich and poor is on the rise, and nepotism and corruption is making a minority super wealthy and a majority struggling to make a living: “It might have been surprising and confusing to discover that, at the peak of sanctions enforcement, hundreds of luxury cars found their way into Iran’s markets. At that time, government officials were not able to import the necessary medical supplies and food — and yet the rich and the well connected managed to get their Maseratis using hard currencies. One could say that, for them, a Porsche is more important than bread. Children of privileged officials enjoy these luxuries to the fullest, and feel protected from any possible intrusion.”
After extensive infighting in the U.S. Senate in which a small group of hardliners attempted to derail the Iran legislation, the Senate voted 98-1 in favor of the bipartisan bill that gives the U.S. Congress a chance to express its view on the final nuclear accord between Iran and the United States. “The lone vote against the bill was cast by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas.” It is useful to remember that a month ago 46 Republican senators signed a letter coordinated by Tom Cotton that attempted to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Today, Tom Cotton was alone in his vote.
New WSJ/NBC public opinion pollreveals the continuing support of the American public for diplomacy with Iran.
Even though critics of Obama’s diplomacy have mounted a relentless public campaign to persuade Americans that it is better to put more pressures on Iran in order to force its government to capitulate on its nuclear program, it seems that the American public is reluctant to exacerbate the conflict with Iran: “When given two options, 54% of adults said they think it is important to have an agreement in place with the Iranians, compared with the 37% who believe the emerging framework is too risky and that economic sanctions would be a more effective deterrent to prevent the country from building a nuclear weapon.”
Huffington Post May 4, 2015
Two years after his election, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is about to go down in history as a leader who defused an intense and bitter conflict that could have led to a military attack on Iran. A nuclear deal that the majority of Iranians hope will bring an end to the isolation of Iran, much needed relief from international sanctions, and a new chapter in U.S.-Iran relations is now in sight. If other enemy countries have faced each other on the battlefield and ultimately managed to work out their differences, why is it impossible for Iran and the United States to do the latter?
Prior to World War II, the hostilities between France and Germany far superseded the more recent enmity between Iran and the United States, and the former two ultimately became partners in the European Community and NATO. The United States and Vietnam were once engaged in military hostilities, yet today they coexist in peace and cooperation. The enmity between Iran and the United States has certainly never risen to the levels of hostility that previously existed between the countries mentioned above. If the countries in question were able to work out their differences, Iran and the United States can surely do so too. Moreover, there is sympathy for the United States among Iranians, and there is apprehension about foreign conflict among Americans. The public at large is ready for an understanding. In a July 2014 public opinion poll conducted by the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, 61% of Americans favored a nuclear deal with Iran. There is a highly vocal group in each country that opposes diplomacy and rapprochement between Iran and the United States. However, both groups’ policy statements lack the active support of the general public.
After eighteen months of intensive nuclear negotiations, Iran and the United States are inching closer to achieving a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their self-imposed deadline of July 1, 2015. Although more technical work is needed to refine the nature of the inspection and verification system and to institute a synchronized process that will lead to the elimination of all nuclear-related sanctions, the framework agreement of April has paved the way for a final nuclear accord. Such a diplomatic breakthrough will have a significant impact on both Iran and the United States, taking their relationship to a new level. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
It is not easy to reverse thirty-six years of mutual satanization. Both Tehran and Washington must deal with vocal domestic opponents who are mirror images of each other. But both Presidents Obama and Rouhani have started a carefully choreographed process of replacing hostilities with respectful language. A month after his inauguration in September 2013, President Rouhani surprised everyone by holding a brief telephone conversation with President Obama. This was the highest level of contact between the two countries since the 1979 Revolution. The major development broke the ice and prepared the ground for an interim nuclear deal, which was signed in November 2013. The historic telephone call was the climax of a dramatic shift in tone between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. After Rouhani’s return home, a large group of people greeted him with cheers, and many others expressed their excitement and praise via social media.
Realizing the significance of public symbolism, both Washington and Tehran have engaged each other at the highest levels, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry holding dozens of meetings and appearing next to each other in front of flags of the United States and Iran. For the first time in thirty-six years, the U.S. Secretary of State held a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister in the residence of Iran’s Ambassador to the U.N., Ali Khoshroo. Even though, technically, the United States maintains a 20-mile travel limit on the movement of Iranian diplomats based at the United Nations, allowing cameras to film this historic meeting was part of the careful choreography to change Iran’s public image.
Rouhani’s administration has also engaged in a reconstruction of the United States’ image inside Iran. He has had a much more difficult task since he does not control the state-owned television and radio. Rather, the Director-General is appointed by the Supreme Leader and is not accountable to the elected President. Despite this disadvantage, Rouhani and his experienced team of advisers know how to operate within the system. They have used social media and other media outlets effectively to gradually change the narrative of U.S.-Iran relations from that of two countries in permanent crisis to one of two countries negotiating solutions to their current problems. The Rouhani administration has quietly endorsed civil society initiatives that attempt to build bridges in the areas of sports, culture, education, music, and the arts. They have relaxed Iranian visa requirements for American visitors, encouraging more people-to-people exchanges. Moreover, for the past three years, Iranian athletes have competed in several wrestling and volleyball tournaments in the United States, and several universities in Iran are currently pursuing academic cooperation with American universities.
To encourage more civil society interactions with Iran, the Department of State accelerated its International Visitor Leadership Program with the country. Since Iran faces numerous financial and economic sanctions, the State Department had to obtain permission from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to conduct civil society exchanges with Iran. The State Department has supported a variety of exchanges with Iran. American nuclear diplomacy is conducted side-by-side with sports diplomacy, music and art diplomacy, food diplomacy, and even bodybuilding diplomacy (which occurred when a famous American bodybuilder, Ron Coleman, visited Iran). Search for Common Ground, an independent NGO devoted to improving civil society interactions, recently sponsored several American jazz musicians’ trip to Iran.
In a carefully structured choreography, Rouhani and his team have made it possible for American visitors to Iran to receive media attention and press coverage, engaging in an Iranian version of public diplomacy. It is not unusual to see American flags at hotels, in sports arenas when American teams are competing, or at conferences and gatherings. It is a remarkable change when one considers how difficult it was for Iran and the United States to even admit to having dialogue with each other.
Yet the road towards the normalization of relations between Iran and the United States has dangerous turns that could upend the drivers if they are not careful. The American public is still upset about the hostage crisis of 1979-1981, and media images of the burning of the American flag remain in people’s memories. The book, Not without My Daughter, became a bestseller and was turned into a film, and the film, Argo, won several awards. Republican critics of President Obama’s diplomacy count on this reservoir of negative perceptions to thwart any rapprochement with Iran. By keeping the U.S. Congress engaged, President Obama can deflect some of the criticism and maintain public support for his diplomacy.
Similarly, Rouhani must deal with opponents who have a vested interest in sustaining conflict with the United States. The dispute with the United States is so embedded in the fractured domestic politics of Iran that Rouhani has to navigate the dangerous waters of factional politics very carefully. Some perceive “nuclear negotiations” as a euphemism for broader changes that could result in a major realignment of political forces inside Iran. Others perceive the nuclear negotiation process as one that will inevitably end in the normalization of relations with the United States and the integration of Iran into the international community. Rouhani has powerful cards to play against his opponents and a chance to forge a historic new chapter in the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy.
After thirty-six years of mutual satanization, it is easy to advance pessimistic arguments and to be doubtful about a future in which Iran and the United States will no longer be enemies. However, the nuclear negotiations and the prospect of a final nuclear accord demonstrate the fiction of the idea of permanent enemies destined to be in conflict with each other.
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