Beginning of the Beginning

The event that so many in the political realm thought unimaginable has happened: a deal has been struck with Iran over its nuclear program. While that leading line sounds like a statement of finality, the reality is that there is still a long way to go on several fronts.Iran-and-world-powers-strike-initial-nuclear-deal

The deal, in its most basic terms, allows the nation of Iran to continue its nuclear program with the stipulation that all weapons development be halted and facilities be subject to international inspection. This seemed to be the hinge point of all the discussions, although many Iranian spokesmen, many powerful and influential political actors, deny that weapons development was ever a priority in their nuclear constructions. In turn, the U.S. has promised relief from economic sanctions that have been crippling the Iranian economy for quite some time.

Now, it is important to remember that the deal reached just hours past the deadline in the wee hours of the morning was the broad outlines of a plan to be hashed out in much greater detail by the end of June. The framework of these discussions has yet to be determined; however, a few key actors on each side of the debate have already indicated that there are several roadblocks already in place.

First and foremost is the opposition of the U.S. Senate, more specifically, Republican members of the body, who authored an open letter in opposition to the most recent talks. While their threat to the breakdown of these talks seems benign at the moment, their powers of influence in both houses could swing the debate – not to mention an upcoming Presidential season could change the balance of power in the White House leading to a swift change in policy. The chances on such a change seem slim however, as a recent poll concludes that 61% of the country is in favor of the deal.

Another line of threat to this deal is Israel. One of America’s key allies, Israel has been extremely outspoken over their distaste for the entire affair, and when the deal was announced, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the deal didn’t stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, is paved the road*. The repercussions for U.S. – Israeli relations here could, and most likely will, be substantial, and as of yet no clear reconciliatory path has been shown.

The last actor to have serious implications over the future of this deal is, rather obviously so, Iran. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has recently been vocal over his concerns concerning sanctions. He, as well as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, assert that “We will not sign any agreement unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal”. This has been Iran’s sticking point. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, economic sanctions maintained by the U.S. have crippled and suppressed Iran’s economy in several ways. It is apparent, therefore, to see why the lifting of sanctions has been so key to Iran’s interest in these talks.

The question now becomes: how do the powers at be weigh all these costs and strike a balance? It no doubt will be hard, more like downright difficult (especially in America’s political atmosphere) but the rewards to all parties involved are immeasurable.

* I heard PM Netanyahu make this statement (in roughly these same words) the day the deal was announced on network news television

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Blog Audit

Over the last few weeks, my blog posts have explored issues in the U.S. – Iran relations field spanning from historical conflicts to contemporary market evaluations. With such a disparity in the medium of study, many would scratch their head and wonder where to go from here. Instead, I’ve begun to notice that no one issue, be is political or historical, is independent from any other issue.

The U.S.’s history of intervening and controlling Iranian affairs planted a seed of “contempt”, or at the very least distaste or distrust, that we see manifesting itself today. The 1953 CIA lead coup aided in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which severed our nation’s ties, leading to a smattering of negative interactions over the next 30 years.

Today, the U.S. and Iran are joined by several major world powers to discuss the future of Iran’s nuclear program, and ultimately, Iran’s new place in the global landscape. The current discussions mark a period in time where, perhaps for the first time, steps towards reconciliation can occur. To me, this concept is by far the most important concept my weekly posts and research have cultivated.

The current nuclear talks, and the implications they have for the future, has been an unavoidable reoccurring theme. While the history of the two countries is extremely important, its relevance is lost without providing some context as to how the past can, and will, impact the future. We are seeing that future now where, as I said before, some of the misgivings of the past have been “forgiven” to make way for the potential of a fruitful future.

This being said, going forward with my weekly posts and research paper, I think discussing this (the nuclear talks and their implications) would not only be the most prudent thing to discuss given recent news, but also the most important, influential and interesting aspect concerning the relationship between the United States and Iran.

BLOG TOPIC: U.S. – Iran Relations

TOPIC ON WHICH YOU WILL FOCUS YOUR PAPER: The current U.S. – Iran nuclear talks

RESEARCH QUESTION: Given the ongoing nuclear discussions between the U.S. and Iran over their nuclear program, what impacts would a deal have, if one is reached, on the two nations and their relationship going forward?

Iran Nuclear Talks: The Never Ending Story?

One of the largest stories on the international scene these past few weeks has been the ongoing talks between the U.S. (and it’s Security Counsel counterparts) and Iran concerning their nuclear program. While delays have hampered serious progress on coming to some agreement, in recent days reports from both U.S. and Iranian officials have been increasingly optimistic.

This afternoon, Reuters News reported that the two sides have been “making headway in identifying technical options” for Iran’s nuclear capabilities going forward. The apparent goal is to have a tentative plan, an outline for the final deal, finished by the end of the month – the longer plan drafted by the end of June.

While this time-frame may seem generous given the historical track record, U.S. officials have been quoted as saying there has been “progress” in many major areas. Iranian spokesmen have uttered much the same, saying there remains a few points to consider. But the most surprising, and most encouraging news has been that recent “Iranian media quoted Iranian Atomic Energy Head Ali Akbar Salehi as saying that there was “agreement on 90 percent of technical issues'”.

But not everything has been peaches and cream for the negotiations as of late. Last week a letter co-signed by 47 U.S. Senators was sent to Iran in, what appears to be, an attempt to derail the deal. The letter detailed the ‘whim-sickle’ nature any executive action would have as opposed to a Congress ratified treaty. This seems to be a clear example of trying to scare Iran away from the table, making them fear any sense of security and relief from sanctions, no matter what concessions they make, as it could all crumble like a house of cards.

These Senators fear a nuclear capable Iran in any form. Their hardline stance has driven equally harsh rhetoric. While the U.S. is already urging for fairly strict guidelines in the way of Iran’s nuclear program, they push for an absolute abolition. But what I believe many fail to recognize is how the implications of a deal transcend nuclear science altogether.

A deal means more than an Iran with the ability to generate nuclear power, it also opens up markets with the elimination of sanctions given genuine progress and adherence to whatever deal is in place. As CNN astutely observes, a deal with Iran opens up the 4th largest oil market and has the potential to drop international oil prices with an increase in supply. Iran reaps benefits as well. As Business Insider points out, “ending the sanctions, which [have] hammered the Iranian currency and caused unemployment and misery” is without a doubt a positive boost to the Iranian economy. As I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, the Iranian economy is ripe and ready for investment and commerce – it’s just a matter of sealing this deal.

An Abridged History Part 2: The 1979 Revolution

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To understand the U.S. involvement in the Iranian revolution of 1979, it is first important to understand the concept of “blowback”. Blowback, a term invented by the CIA, refers to the unintended consequences of American policies in relation to foreign policy and intervention (Johnson xi). As Chalmers Johnson writes in his book Blowback, “In a broader sense, blowback is another way of saying that a nation reaps what it sows”(Johnson xi), that what comes around goes around. With this concept and definition in mind, and the 1953 coup case in the forefront, it is clear to see why the infamous Iranian Revolution of 1979 occurred; moreover, it is plain to see that the Iranian Revolution is perhaps the most concrete example of blowback in action.

In 1979, the country of Iran underwent radical changes during its violent revolution. Taking to the streets, angry crowds of Iranians protested the Shah’s rule, “surging through the streets…crying ‘Death to the American Shah’” (Kinzer 202). Leading this charge was the Islamic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a PENTAX Imagefervently anti-Western figure. Khomeini’s “revolutionary Islamist movement… promise[d] a break from the past and a turn toward greater autonomy for the Iranian people”.

With this desire brewing for nearly 30 years, a movement snuffed by the U.S. with the coup of 1953, his movement became so powerful that the Shah was forced to flee from Iran and sought exile in Egypt. Soon after, needing cancer treatment, President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to enter the United States for his medical care. This outraged the revolting Iranian crowd stirring even more anti-American sentiments. In response, the new Ayatollah regime sanctioned the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the taking of hostages (Kinzer 202). On November 4th, a group of pro-Ayatollah students smashed the gates and scaled the walls of the American embassy in Tehran holding 52 hostages captive.

Needless to say, the entire hostage crisis humiliated the United States. Donald Nuechterlein, in his book America Recommitted, goes so far as to call it “the most political damaging foreign policy problem…for the country’s international prestige [at that time]” (Nuechterlein 83). Implementing the Shah’s rule had become a safety blanket for Presidential cabinets for decades, though it was indeed a false sense of security. More importantly, the mass of the American populace was oblivious to why the events occurred, chalking the affair up to irrational anti-Americanism. However, one of the Iranian militants involved with the situation later explained their motivation as delayed retribution for American intervention in the form of the 1953 coup that altered the course of Iranian politics and government (Kinzer 202).

As noted before, this is a clear case of blowback; American international affairs backfiring with unintended consequences. After numerous attempts to rescue the hostages, they were eventually returned safely to the Unites States after 444 days of captivity. This event, in turn, changed the relationship between the two nations forever.

The post hostage crisis interaction between Iran and the U.S. was almost non-existent with the destruction and abandonment of the American embassy in Tehran. Tensions were high and contempt ran deep on both sides – the “umbilical cord” now severed between the two nations. And, even until today, this contempt still appears to guide U.S. – Iranian relations.

Non linked sources:

Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow. New York: Holt, 2006.

Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Holt, 2004. Print.

Nuechterlein, Donald E. America Recommitted. 2nd ed. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

 

 

 

Opening the Floodgates for Iranian Trade

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According to an article featured on the Iranian news outlet PressTV, international business has been salivating at the prospect of Iran finally being allowed to open its markets with a reduction, or elimination, of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other world powers.

According to the article, and the British economic officials quoted in it, U.S. and EU exporters have been jockeying for position as the next round of Iranian nuclear talks quickly approach, signalling the possibility for a reconciled relationship between the U.S. economic giant and the budding Iranian economy.

As the article points out, Iranian markets have continually been an object of positive prospect, but “a web of U.S. sanctions” has kept potential investors, businesses and the like “at bay”. And as one of the globes most promising emerging economies, it’s no wonder international business has their sights set on the blank slate which is Iran. It also helps that Iran wants to develop their economy as well. With western oriented President Hassan Rouani at the helm, who, according to 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft, surprisingly won his election “promising to improve the economy and end Iran’s international isolation”, and with finance ministers in Iran seeking to claim the spot as the Middle East’s most successful economy, the task should be considerably easier.

However, as with many issues facing Iran, it comes down to U.S. willingness.

It’s no secret that Iran is a hot button topic on Capitol Hill, many of our nation’s Representatives and Senators taking hardline stances against the Islamic Republic. Despite this hostility, it is my opinion that economic factors could be one of the biggest selling points to rekindling a link between the United States and Iran.

As it currently stands, Iranians have the ability to buy many of the same name brand commodities that we are faced with every day in the U.S. The only difference is their goods are procured over the black market. This leads to a slew of issues, including inflated prices. So, on Iran’s end, opening up economic ties to the U.S. drops the cost of living and helps the nation grow economically. On the flip side, trade with Iran boosts the American economy. Everyone wins. As Presidential Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian puts it, “instead of imposing economic sanctions” both sides should “try to utilize economic relations to overcome political disagreement”.

At a time when the differences between the two nations are fully on display, maybe it’s time we look to the points of similarity, the points where we can build a positive relationship built on more than just talk.

An Abridged History Part 1: The Coup of 1953

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In 1953, a new Prime Minister took the helm of power in Iran, the western educated Mohammad Mossadegh. With passionate beliefs in democracy and nationalism, Mossadegh sought to modernize and westernize the nation, a policy that put him at odds with the nation’s monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah (the Shah), a western backed figure. To do this, Mossadegh targeted international entities harvesting the natural wealth of the country, most notably BP (British Petroleum). Mossadegh spearheaded a proposal that would nationalize Iran’s oil fields, compensating Britain for the facilities – the proposal passing the Iranian parliament unanimously (Kinzer 117).

Naturally, British authorities resented Mossadegh’s move, British Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison saying, “Persian oil is of vital importance to our economy. We regard it as essential to do everything possible to prevent the Persians from getting away with a breach of their contractual obligations” (Kinzer 119). They needed to find a way to maintain power.

British authorities approached Secretary of State John Dulles and, in extension, his brother Allen Dulles (head of the CIA), drafting the idea that they could portray Mossadegh’s rule as Communist infiltration to garner support in their effort to remove him from power. That “the risk of leaving Iran ‘open to Soviet aggression’” was a “compelling” factor in the necessity of American action.

After receiving the newly elected President Eisenhower’s approval, planning the coup began. CIA operatives were given “suitcases full of cash to destabilize the regime”. John Dulles contacted US Ambassador to Iran, Loy Henderson, asking him to find Iranians supportive of their cause (Kinzer 123).

After building a substantial network of paid supporters, the CIA led a series of riots in the streets of Tehran, the climatic set on August 19th where thousands took to the streets of Tehran demanding Mossadegh’s resignation (Kinzer 127). At its height, General Zahedi, the CIA bought and paid for leader of the coup, proclaimed via radio broadcast that he had been named the new Prime Minister by the Shah who, incidentally, had been brought into the fold by American General Norman Schwarzkopf, attaining the Shah’s secret blessing months before hand.

The day’s final battle concluded when the military bombarded Mossadegh’s house, causing Mossadegh and his supporters to surrender to Zahedi’s troops. The coup, codename Operation Ajax, having successfully ousted Mossadegh, concluded with Mohammad Reza Shah returning to his throne with a feeling of safety, Zahedi as the new Prime Minister and Mohammad Mossadegh sitting in jail.

The power structure restored favoring western (mainly now American) interests, the Shah became a powerful ally for the U.S. in the middle east. Now a top purchaser of American weapons, and the U.S. having a partial stake in Persian oil, the two nation’s new relationship, and the blatantly obvious fact that the U.S. had a hand in the coup, led to undercurrents of anti-Americanism.

As historian James A. Bill concludes, “[American intervention] locked the United States into a special relationship with the Shah and signaled the powerful entrance of American intelligence and military activity into Iran. The U.S. intervention alienated important generations of Iranians from America, and was the first fundamental step in the eventual rupture of Iranian-American relations in the revolution of 1978-79″ (Kinzer 201).

Non-Linked Sources:

Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow. New York: Holt, 2006.

Sanctions: The Ongoing Battle

As of a few months ago, Iran, accompanied by a handful of significant world powers, sat down for a conference handling the potential for a nuclear deal. While a deal was not successfully reached despite concessions on both sides, the deadline for such an agreement was postponed and delayed until July of 2015.

This afternoon, Reuters journalist Patricia Zengerle published an article outlining a recently passed U.S. Senate measure calling for harsher sanctions on Iran if negotiations revolving around their nuclear program fail to reach a deal by June. The proposal, passing 18-4 in committee, is not expected to reach the floor until late March.

The White House has condemned such actions, the President threatening veto of such a motion, and Vice President Biden “reject[ing] calls for more sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program because ‘this is not the time to risk a breakdown when we still have a chance for a breakthrough'”.

This is right minded thinking for the new age of U.S.-Iranian relations. Right now, the U.S. has a golden opportunity to reestablish ties with Iran – further hurting the country has quite the opposite effect.

The United States, just as much as Iran, can not take a hardline stance when it comes to these talks. The U.S. must be willing to concede. As Middle East expert Vali Nasr has pointed out, “the tightening of the screws is making Iran increasingly determined to get nuclear weapons – not to start a war, but to prevent one…Iran’s leaders worry that foreign powers would ‘feel safe enough to interfere in the affairs of a non-nuclear-armed state‘”. Former Congressman Ron Paul has said much the same thing in his time in the political spotlight. Writing on the Iranian nuclear situation, Paul writes, “The unintended consequences of our confrontational policies toward Iran may be to actually encourage them to seek nuclear weapons capabilities. We should be using diplomacy rather than threats and hostility”.

American policy makers need to see this; they need to see the conflict through Iran’s eyes. After all, as Mohammad Nahavandian, chief of staff to President Rouhani, said in an interview with Steve Kroft, “For Iran, [nuclear capability is] just another example of technological advancement”.

The waters of Iran’s intentions remain unclear. What is clear is that America’s hardline stand against any form of Iranian nuclear power, in any sense of the word, should be strongly reconsidered.

Why Is This Even Important?

The current diplomatic and political struggle between the Unites States and Iran is an important issue for a few reasons. Firstly, it is an example, one of the few, where the U.S. has poor relations with a nation state, rather than a non-state actor. This in and of itself provides a different dynamic to study in the world of diplomacy, hard power and the like. Second, the topic has far reaching implications, ones that require an analysis from an interdisciplinary approach; namely, the two countries historical relationship as well as contemporary political issues, one often linking to the other. Thirdly, it is a prime example of an American opportunity in the world. While many international issues presented in the media are challenges or threats to the American nation, Iran, in this writer’s humble opinion, presents one of the biggest opportunities for American foreign policy. A positive relationship with the nation could go a long way to restore historical grievances and aid in the prosperity of both countries.