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Close to Home: U.S. and Iran: The interim deal

  • This artwork by Paul Tong relates to the interim nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

Recent congressional attempts to sabotage the interim deal with Iran reveal a curious inattention to the long-term consequences of doing so. Advocates of the deal see it as a relatively modest attempt in trust building. In exchange for cutting back on its nuclear enrichment program, Iran receives a limited measure of sanctions relief.

Sonoma County's own Ted Eliot, former ambassador to Afghanistan and a country director for Iran in the State Department, has publicly aligned himself with the growing cadre of experienced diplomatic, military and intelligence professionals who view the six-month deal, as he put it, as "potentially a significant step away from war."

Avoidance of war is hardly an ignoble goal, although hardliners in both Iran and the United States make it seem so. In the past decade, a toxic mix of mutual grievances, deep distrust and corrosive propaganda campaigns on both sides has fueled our current policy of coercive diplomacy toward Iran: If negotiations fail, the default option is the use of military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, an option that many Iran experts believe will invite yet another "disarmament war" in the Middle East.

This is precisely the opposite of the goal of the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Arms experts then had considered, and then dismissed, what was then called "preventative war," an idea strongly derided by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954: "How could one have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many, thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn't preventative war, that's just war."

As nuclear disarmament advocate Jonathon Shell noted in a recent essay, safety in the nuclear age would be "guaranteed not because countries cannot make the bomb but because they have chosen not to, as so many have under the NPT." What made the nuclear non-proliferation treaty so internationally appealing was the provision in Article VI of the treaty that equalized the status of all signatories by having the extant nuclear weapons states commit to eventually getting rid of them. That hasn't happened. Seeing a double-standard favoring Western powers in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, non-nuclear states began to fear, not unreasonably, for their own national security.

In the past decade especially, the international community witnessed the devastation of countries such as Libya and Iraq that lacked nuclear weapons -#8212; making them vulnerable to Western military strikes and invasion -#8212; versus the kid glove treatment of North Korea, which has a nuclear arsenal. This lesson has not been lost on Iran.

Hardliners there are convinced that a U.S. attempt to add further conditions and new sanctions to the interim deal on Iran is proof that the United States is not acting in good faith; that the ultimate goal on the American side is ensure that negotiations fail so that military strikes can pave the way for regime change. It is that perception which Iran scholars and others believe would effectively redouble Iran's effort to move toward a nuclear arsenal in a deterrent move.

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani has the backing of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to fulfill Iran's obligations under the interim deal. Large numbers of the Iranian population -#8212; among the most educated and America-friendly in the entire Middle East -#8212; are also heartened by the potential for a degree of rapprochement with the United States.

Supporters of the impending Menendez-Kirk bill in Congress that urges further sanctions on Iran couldn't be more out of step with changing world realities. Vast tracts of agricultural land worldwide are drying up, competition among world powers for Middle East oil and gas is intensifying, and the huge shift of economic power from West to East, all require new ways of thinking; a new paradigm that moves the world away from the current era's "disarmament wars" and toward an increase in systems of international cooperation.

<i>Donna Brasset is a cultural-anthropologist with a background in international relations. She has taught courses on Iran at Sonoma State University. She is a resident of Petaluma.</i>


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