Today, diplomats from the U.S., Iran, and the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) pulled off the diplomatic equivalent of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
With the deal that was signed in the early morning hours in Geneva on Sunday, the two sides managed to change course from the path to a disastrous war and put us on a road that ends with concrete assurance that Iran will never obtain nuclear weapons. Though it is just an interim agreement, after thirty years of non-relations, the deal is historic. And in addition to the security and stability gains it provides, the agreement with an Iranian president who has only been in office for 100 days shores up forces of change inside of Iran who yearn for a brighter future.
Before this deal was struck, Iran was on pace to accomplish a so-called “breakout capability” — in which it could enrich uranium to weapons grade before being caught by inspectors — by next year. U.S. sanctions were escalating to a point of no return, with nothing left to sanction but key allies and the long discussed last option on the table appearing increasingly likely. Short of a diplomatic offramp, the two countries were nearing the climax on the long road to war.
But with the intensive diplomatic efforts between Iran, the US and other UN powers, the worst has been delayed if not averted. The deal sets a six month time frame during which Iran’s nuclear program will be frozen in place and key elements will be rolled back. It marks the first time in a decade that Iran’s nuclear program will actually be reversed. In exchange, the U.S. will freeze its current sanctions in place — agreeing to not impose further sanctions — and provide a limited rollback of certain sanctions.
Now, over the next six months, the parties will need to forge a final agreement to put verifiable constraints in place to guarantee that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
For Iranians and Americans, this means the specter of war has been lifted–for now. While Obama, Rouhahni, Kerry and Zarif all deserve credit for investing in diplomacy and changing course, the real credit goes to the people of the two countries.
Last June, with the entire world having largely dismissed the prospects of any positive news coming out of Iran’s elections, the people of Iran defied the odds and shocked the system by turning out in droves to elect the lone moderate candidate–Hassan Rouhani–into office.
Rouhani campaigned on the promise to end the securitized environment inside the country and rebuild Iran’s international relations through constructive engagement. His agenda, anathema to the hardline establishment in Iran, was given tentative backing by the Supreme Leader on what appeared to be a conditional, time limited basis. The Supreme Leader, who has long espoused the view that the U.S. is dedicated to keeping Iran weak and dependent, allowed Rouhani to test his election mandate and show that Iran’s hardliners were wrong and the U.S could indeed be negotiated with. Rouhani’s ability to secure an interim deal that has benefits for Iran will not just lift the threat of war that has choked off space for Iranian civil society, but will provide him and the moderates that surround him with more capital and maneuverability against hardliner opponents to not just resolve the nuclear issue, but to deal with internal issues like human rights and regional concerns.
In the U.S., while many of our own hawks also wrote off the prospect of diplomacy and insisted that the U.S. would have to defeat Iran with sanctions and eventual military action, Americans resisted those arguments. Way back in 2008, then-Senator Obama bucked the political establishment and argued that he would negotiate directly with Iran if elected. The 2012 Presidential election campaign saw Obama finally challenging the “loose talk of war” and, in the end, he won the argument among voters as his opponent claimed strong support for Iran diplomacy as well.
The support for diplomacy among Americans has been consistent. In the weeks before the deal, polls indicated that Americans favor diplomacy, and trading in sanctions for a deal, by as much as a two-to-one ratio.
Now, with six months to get a deal, those on both sides who support an agreement based on compromise and oppose a disastrous war will face the true challenge. It is likely that hardliners on both sides will come out against this deal and any future deal. Their arguments will be mirror images of one another. The deal gave up too much and got too little. The other side can never be trusted. It was escalation (of sanctions, of the nuclear program) that got the deal in the first place, so we can’t stop escalating. We must set maximalist demands. Diplomacy is a losing game.
But with the resolve and spirit that managed to secure this deal, a final deal can be secured. There is a long road ahead, but for the first time in years, it is a road that leads to security, stability, and a brighter future for Americans and Iranians instead of war.
(This article originally appeared in Huffington Post)