September 5, 2014

U.S. and Iran Engage in Volleyball Diplomacy


Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Iranian and American people have been isolated from one another due to long-standing disputes between their governments. Routine interactions, like sporting events between national clubs, and other cultural exchanges have been few and far between. However, recently thousands of fans across Southern California were able to witness a rarity: the U.S. and Iranian national volleyball teams squaring off in friendly exhibition matches as part of a goodwill exchange between the two estranged nations.

As an Iranian American who has lived in Los Angeles since the age of seven, the matches were particularly meaningful. Thanks to the State Department, which helped arrange the matches amidst high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with Iran, thousands of Californians packed in to watch each match, waiving both U.S. and Iranian flags alike, cheering every serve and spike. The event’s athletes and fans revealed the driving force behind the recent diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and Iran. Today, 60 percent of Americans support nuclear diplomacy with Iran. In turn, Iran’s populace, a nation where 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30, is overwhelmingly in favor of resolving the nuclear issue and opening strong relations with the United States.

The policy of institutionalized silence between the U.S. and Iran has fueled both exaggerated stereotypes and antagonistic policies. It is our job, the people of both nations, to build bridges over destructive policies and connect through events such as the volleyball games of the past week. But absent a resolution of the nuclear issue, which must be resolved if the Iranian and American people are to open a new chapter, the stereotypes and antagonism will linger.

Fortunately, there is reason to hope that a diplomatic breakthrough could be on the horizon. The successful implementation of the interim nuclear deal struck in November and reports of steady progress at the negotiating table are encouraging. Many of America’s chief national security concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program have been addressed and an unprecedented program of inspections has been established at Iran’s nuclear sites. Meanwhile, Iran has received limited economic sanction relief with the prospect of more if the conflict can be resolved. If the sides keep pursuing a win-win agreement, they should be able to strike a deal that prevents war and protects against a nuclear-armed Iran. Given the stakes, neither side can afford to let political posturing stand in the way of an agreement.

Both President Obama and Iran’s President Rouhani deserve a tremendous amount of credit for taking a step away from the decades of animosity and pursuing a new beginning for the U.S. and Iran. But the Obama administration will need support from Congress in order to seal a deal, including from California legislators that would have the strong backing of the Iranian-American community. Both Senators Boxer and Feinstein have been strong champions of diplomacy, and helped stall a push for sanctions that would have derailed the interim nuclear deal earlier this year. Other California representatives, such as Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Adam Schiff (D- Pasadena), have also voiced their strong support for negotiations.

The scorecard from the National Iranian American Council displays where all Southern Californian representatives stand on diplomacy with Iran. Their continued leadership, as well as the vocal support of other legislators that want to secure a diplomatic deal, will be necessary to head off the efforts of those eager to play spoiler.

Together, the people of both nations can lead their representatives toward a brighter future in U.S. Iran relations, a future that will assure greater security and peace for the United States and further civil society in Iran. The sporting arenas of Los Angeles were great examples of an atmosphere where the U.S. and Iran can compete in good will, and launch new economic and cultural gains.

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