Since l979, when the Shah of Iran was overthrown by a revolution and the United States Embassy in Tehran was attacked, a cold/hot war has existed between Iran and the U.S. American hostages from the Embassy were held for over a year until Ronald Reagan was elected President in November, l980. For 36 years, there has been almost no contact or communication between the two countries. We are known in Iran as the “Great Satan”. There has been suspicion and distrust on both sides, especially since the United States began the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, sending millions of troops into the Middle East.
Iran is a nation of over 80 million Shiite Muslims with an elected President ,Hassan Rouhani ,and a parliament. However, the actual head of their power structure is the Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khameini, their religious leader. When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, he began a correspondence with the Ayatollah to open a line of communication. They have exchanged letters at different times during his two terms in office.
The United States and Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China began talks with Iran early in 2015 in Geneva , focused on limiting Iran’s nuclear program. Iran considers itself a sovereign modern nation with a need for nuclear research and development as other countries have, including Pakistan, Israel, India, Russia, China and North Korea. The six countries meeting in Switzerland were deeply concerned about the enrichment of nuclear material leading to nuclear bombs, since Iran already has active nuclear programs at Natanz, Arak and Fordo. Secretary of State, John Kerry has been the driving force in the negotiations with Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, Federica Mogherini of the European Union and foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany.
Economic sanctions against Iran by the United States and other countries to force restriction of their nuclear program have been very harmful to their economy. Iran’s goal in the negotiations is lifting the sanctions as quickly as possible. For the six on the opposite side of the table, the main issues are: limiting the centers where centrifuges would be allowed to enrich uranium, reducing the number of centrifuges in existence, transferring existing nuclear material out of Iran to another country, and increasing the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. March 31 was set as a target for the initial framework to be reached : June 30 for the final agreement.
On March 3, 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel came to the United States at the invitation of John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to speak to a joint-session of Congress. The invitation, extended to Netanyahu without White House consultation, was a sharp break with the long-time tradition of meetings between heads of state. Netanyahu came just days before the close Israeli presidential election and his speech was seen as an attempt to build support at home for his candidacy. Fifty Democratic Senators including the Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, did not attend his speech which was a frontal attack on the Iran negotiations talking place in Switzerland. Although no details were known, he said the outcome would be “a very bad deal” with disastrous consequences for Israel, the United States and the world. He won his election —but alienated President Obama who has been a staunch supporter of Israel in the Security Council and with millions for Iron Dome defense .
Negotiations Result in a Nuclear Deal with Iran
Throughout March, complex negotiations continued in Switzerland with little information being leaked to the press. Secretary Kerry was joined by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz , a nuclear physicist, who dealt directly with Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Salehi was a student at M.I.T. when Moniz was a young professor there. They worked on the scientific factors, such as whether new or more efficient centrifuges would be used for enrichment, how much nuclear fuel Iran would be allowed to stockpile, how centers at Arak and Fordo would be changed or dismantled. Every issue was debated and argued at length. It was not clear what form a March 31 agreement would take.
In the United States, Republican senators who had been stirred by Netanyahu’s dire warnings of a “bad deal” were becoming restless. On March 9, Senator Tom Cotton, 37, a newly elected freshman from Arkansas with no foreign policy experience, wrote an open letter to Ayatollah Khomeini . He made the specious claim that any deal Obama would gain from Iran would be invalid when he was no longer president in two years. This letter was then signed by 46 other Republican senators. Although the letter was described as “outrageous interference” by many political observers world wide, the Ayatollah brushed it off as “propaganda” . He also cautioned hard-line Tehran conservatives against being outspoken. He was biding his time until the negotiations were completed. As the March 31 deadline neared, certain issues became sticking points: IAEA inspection schedule, time limit of restrictions on enrichment.. 25 years?… a generation? Obama decided to extend the deadline and the negotiators worked into the early morning hours of April 2 until they agreed on the deal.
The framework was released as a brief document by Iran’s Minister Zarif and the European Union Policy Chief Mogherini. It listed a dozen “ parameters” that would guide the next three months of talks, including the commitment that Natanz would be the only site where uranium would be enriched. The United States and Iran also made public more detailed accounts of the agreement. Although their accounts did overlap, there were also some differences that indicated both sides were preparing to present and sell the results to their respective government officials and citizens back home.
In the deal, Iran agreed to reduce its nuclear program significantly for 10 to 15 years and accept international inspection of all sites. In exchange, the United States and other countries would lift economic sanctions gradually on Iran. The 19,000 installed centrifuges would be cut back by about two-thirds. The deep underground facility at Fordo would be converted to a research center, and the Arak heavy-water reactor would be modified and incapable of producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb. The exact time table for lifting sanctions and the schedule for inspections would be determined in the final round of talks before June 30. President Obama presented the deal to the American people as “ a once in a lifetime opportunity” to curb the spread of nuclear weapons in a dangerous region. He said, “This is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” He contrasted Iran’s defense budget of $30 billion to the United States defense budget of close to $600 billion to make clear that “we preserve all our capabilities.”
Part II , Monday, April 20
Diplomacy is better than war, but I am so wary of Iran’s promises. What do you think?