After six decades full of hostility, it has been an incredibly productive past six months for relations between Iran and the rest of the world. First of all, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two terms as president ran out in August, and Hassan Rouhani was elected. In September, history was made when President Obama and Rouhani exchanged words over the telephone, marking the two countries’ largest political exchange since 1979.
But the most important story to rise out of Tehran in recent months was the tentative nuclear deal that was reached in late November. The United States, France, U.K., Germany, China and Russia made a tentative and complicated six-month pact with Iran that essentially eases some sanctions in exchange for the limitation of Iran’s nuclear program.
The deal has been equally heralded as a major step toward easing the decades-long tensions with Iran and admonished by countries like Israel as a gigantic mistake. Before delving more into the implications of this deal (which appears to be nearing implementation), it would behoove us to take a look back at the United States’ checkered past with Iran.
The trouble began in 1953 when then-Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq was overthrown in a CIA-organized coup, which led to the installation of Shah Pelavi as leader of Iran. Although he was beloved by American politicians, he gained a host of detractors in his home country, due mainly to his modernization-minded policies which conflicted with the traditional culture of the region.
In 1979, the tension boiled over when the theocratic Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in a highly-publicized revolution. Following the Shah’s hospitalization in the United States, the Ayatollah demanded that President Carter extradite the former leader to be tried in Iran. When he refused, the United States embassy in Tehran was stormed by demonstrators, leading to the 444-day hostage crisis which doomed President Carter’s credibility.
Since this explosive chapter in American history, relations with Iran have seen little improvement. The US took the side of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, unintentionally supporting Saddam Hussein’s rule and future tyranny. In 1986, Ronald Reagan sold Iran weapons to help fund the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua. The US Navy shot down an Iranian civilian aircraft in 1988 in one of the biggest geopolitical gaffes in history. President Bush referred to Iran as a member of the “axis of evil” in his famous 2002 speech. In his eight years as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad established a very toxic reputation in the United States. Some highlights include his insensitive remarks about the events of 9/11 to his proclamation that “we don’t have homosexuals like in your country” at Columbia University in 2007. Clearly, his track record has been one of antagonism towards the heartstrings of American politics.
The past 60 years have been a continuous stream of negative tensions, which brings us to the difficult matter of today. The proposed deal would mark a major development toward ending the diplomatic wasteland of Iran and start its long journey toward becoming a functioning member of the international community once again. However, as Israel and other skeptics have pointed out, such a deal also requires concessions that allow Iran some nuclear potential, which is always a dangerous proposition. This moment in history could very well be the best chance the EU and United States will ever get to patch things up with Iran. The recent installation of Rouhani as president is a massively important development, and these first few months of relations with him are crucial. More so than any Iranian leader since Shah Pelavi, he has shown interest and willingness to not just talk, but negotiate with world powers to restore dignity to his much-maligned country.
As it stands right now, the tentative deal reached in November would only be valid for six months following its implementation. Much like the recent postponement of the US government shutdown, this recent trend in political decision-making is hazardous at best. Working in small increments of time like this achieves nothing but pushing debates that need to occur back further.
Thus, the aim of the United States and its EU allies should be to pursue a permanent agreement with Iran. Yes, concessions will have to be made to achieve a deal of this sort, and the lingering danger of a nuclear Iran would remain. Also, Rouhani is not without skeletons in his closet, as he admitted to deceiving European powers in 2006 as Iran's nuclear negotiator. But in the long run, it is time to utilize our allies' collective influence to bring Iran out of its isolation. To put it simply, it is no longer 1979. They have a new leader with much more moderate ideals, so extending a small favor of trust will go a long way to ease these caustic tensions that have existed for decades. Rouhani is a highly intelligent man with initiative, so matching him move for move is an absolute must. The steps taken to sign this initial deal are important ones, and it is vital that the search for a permanent negotiation continues in earnest.