THE BLOG

The Agreement With Iran -- A New Hope

The interim agreement reached in Geneva among the '5+1' (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) and Iran, although more accurately seen as a tactical success rather than a strategic jump, should nevertheless be considered a victory for all responsible parties -- a victory for reason and good sense, and of course the victory of diplomacy and negotiated solutions over the advocates of war.

The fact that the U.S. red line has evolved from "no enrichment of uranium" to "no nuclear bomb" has been the chief facilitator of this accord. Although this is carefully and correctly called merely a first step, it is a historic win-win for all parties: A success for European diplomacy, which has labored patiently for years to avoid an armed clash in a very sensitive area; a success for Russian and Chinese diplomacy, which has stolidly worked to reconcile conflicting positions. Yet in the last analysis, it is the victory for President Obama's enduring belief in diplomacy. It is also a victory of Iranian moderates and reformists who put in office an experienced diplomat like President Rouhani, who is prepared to work with international powers to reach security.

There is still a long road ahead, but as President Obama said, it is the first step toward a comprehensive solution. Indeed, the agreement is the beginning of restored confidence and trust between Washington and Tehran, and a significant step toward improving security and stability in a region with a dearth of historical democratic culture but an abundance of extremism, and where age-old sectarian conflict has been metastasizing since the "Arab Spring." At a critical juncture for the world economy still limping slowly out of a prolonged economic crisis, this agreement -- if it goes forward exponentially in right direction -- could gradually bring the benefits of collaboration by ensuring stable transport routes for energy products and by fostering free trade in a climate of increased trust. Indeed, the accord immediately sent oil futures downward .

Benefits for the Region

If brought to fruition definitively, the agreement could ensure stability and security, boosting the civilian economy while weakening the war economy in the region and beyond. Collaboration between the U.S. and Iran, with the approval of unified Europe and the consensus and support of China and Russia, could improve security in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, and could even render possible a solution to the tragedy of Syria's civil war.

Yet the most important task facing the U.S. and Iran, as well as other international actors, remains: Finding a remedy against the al-Qaeda style Salafi-Jihadi extremism, which still has a deep and powerful grip on soul of Arabic-Islamic societies, and continues to threaten human civilization. Loosening this grip in a culture lacking a significant democratic legacy is both difficult and crucial.

Saudi Arabia fears rapprochement between U.S. and Iran might come at its expense. Yet, this preliminary multilateral agreement aims at ensuring security within a framework of international law, and thus all parties, including Saudi Arabia, would seem to be beneficiaries. Yet Saudi Arabia seems wary of any agreement broadening regional security and stability within the framework of international law, perhaps because they fear it could introduce the concept of civil law into domestic discourse, posing a threat to the country's imbalanced power structures.

Another prominent Middle East player, Israel, along with its more single-minded American supporters and lobbyists, abhors the nuclear deal. While the deal seems to have garnered the support of the Israel's strategic establishment and investors, Israeli hawks, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, continue to see Iran as an existential threat. Yet it is universally known that Iran, since the time of Cyrus the Great, has accorded its protection to Jewish communities in the Middle East, and is still home to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East, after Israel. Perhaps this agreement will allow -- or convince -- Netanyahu and his political supporters inside and outside Israel to look into the mirror of its soul to realize that Israel no longer needs to be governed with "memories of the holocaust" as stated by Former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy

Benefits for Iran

This agreement should be seen as the first concrete success of the moderate centrist President Hassan Rouhani, one that promises to reduce tensions and the risk of an armed clash with the western powers. It is likely to lead to the gradual lifting of sanctions and the avoidance of new ones. The resulting improved economic situation should help Rouhani marginalize extremism at home.

Although the mere act of electing President Rouhani didn't alter the Iranian power structure, pro-democracy activists may take heart that the direction of march has clearly altered, and the legacy of Ahmadinejad and his mentor is likely ending. Decreased pressure from outside Iran and an improving economy could bolster Iranian civil society and broaden horizons for democracy and civil rights within Iran, further stimulating change toward a full democracy in accordance with universal norms.