An extraordinary diplomatic feat


Obama may have stopped a war with Iran before it started, but stopping a war isn’t the same as peace.

The nuclear agreement with Iran is an extraordinary feat of diplomacy.

First and foremost, non-proliferation experts agree that the deal blocks all of the routes to making an atomic bomb. There are provisions for rigorous inspections — so if Iran cheats, the world will know.

Second, it isn’t just Washington to whom the Iranians are accountable. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany too, signed alongside the United States. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will monitor Iranian activities on the great powers’ behalf.

Third, the Obama administration and its allies got the Iranians to give up rights they have under international law. The Non-Proliferation Treaty expressly allows each and every signatory to develop a peaceful nuclear power program, and there’s never been any proof that Iran’s research is anything but peaceful. In accepting limits on uranium enrichment and the like, the Iranians made a huge concession.

Because the mineral and technological ingredients for peaceful and military nuclear programs are so similar, the problem has always been a lack of trust. The United States and its allies refused to believe Iran’s claims to innocence without verification. This agreement supplies it.

The Republicans — echoed by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and their respective lobbies — are loudly objecting to this deal. In their alternate universe, negotiation means unconditional surrender: They dictate the terms, and their opponents meekly assent. That isn’t how things work, even for the world’s mightiest nation.

So it’s hardly surprising that Iran drove a hard bargain too, and won the sanctions relief it sought.

The fact that Iran achieved a key objective makes the agreement stronger, not weaker. It means there are concrete benefits to show the Iranian people for sticking to the deal. And the hardliners in the Islamic Republic — who, like their hawkish counterparts in Washington, benefit from poor relations between the United States and Iran — won’t be able to portray their negotiators as weaklings or sellouts.

The White House adeptly tuned out the naysayers and let the talks proceed past several deadlines. President Barack Obama and his team knew they had a chance to avert another major Middle East war.

Heading off war isn’t the same thing as peace, however.

In fact, to placate Israel and Saudi Arabia in advance of the deal, the United States promised these foes of Iran piles of fancy new weaponry. That bribery could wind up egging on the Saudis in their various interventions around the region — particularly in Yemen and Syria — and inducing the Iranians to follow suit.

External meddling didn’t cause these terrible conflicts. But it can keep them going well past the point of exhaustion.

Bravo to Obama for boldly parleying with Washington’s enemies. He may very well have stopped a war with Iran before it started. May he show still greater courage and get tough with the U.S. allies now wreaking so much havoc in the Middle East.

By Chris Toensing

Chris Toensing is the editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington, DC.

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