Iran’s nuclear deal with the West, supported by China and Russia, was the first concrete action of what is being dubbed a period of détente in the post-Ahmadinejad world. Relations between the US and Iran have been de jure non-existent since the 1979 Iranian revolution and the subsequent US embassy hostage crisis (see Argo for Ben Affleck’s recollection of events).  However, there have been times of cooperation between the two States. 9/11 noticeably created a shared enemy in the Taliban and Sunni jihadism. Unfortunately though, this fledgling partnership was quickly nullified when Bush carelessly and reductively married Iran to its greatest foe, Iraq, and to North Korea in a pseudo-alliance branded the ‘axis of evil.’ Add in Iran’s clandestine flirtation with nuclear weapons capability and the two were once again polarized.

Iran | Nuclear

This deal, freezing enrichment in return for sanctions relief, appears to signal a genuine fresh start; both presidents are ostensibly more popular internationally than their predecessors and have a more moderate approach. However, even though Rouhani has provided a new progressive zeitgeist – a Gorbachev figure in America’s other Cold War – it is certainly premature to consider the stand-off as over.

It should not be forgotten that this is an interim deal, one that will sunset in 6 months time. Of course, this provides 6 months’ worth of potential stability and is a fantastic precursor to further negotiations and agreements. However, unless a new deal is reached, we will simply be back at square one come the summer. A permanent solution to the nuclear crisis will be harder to come by.

There would have been a chance of bringing about new status quo cemented by a lasting deal that works for both sides if it were in the hands of only Obama and Rouhani. However, there is a long list of actors at play – and with them come stubbornness, xenophobia, religious fanaticism and hawkish realism. If a lasting compromise that suits all is to be found, it would go down as by far the greatest piece of diplomacy of this century so far. Sadly, I do not believe we are close to that eventuality.

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to undermine the deal as a ‘historic mistake.’ His cynicism towards Tehran is a great cause for concern.  Israeli military preemption would leave the scars of mistrust and validate Iran’s need of nuclear deterrent, as well as result in a regional war with a limitless potential for escalation. You may argue that this would be irrational of Israel, considering the prospect of retaliation, and that Netanyahu’s hawkishness will never advance beyond mere rhetoric. However, Israel has previously acted unilaterally against WMD targets in Syria and Iraq and is generally not considered a paragon of international law. Furthermore, to really understand Israeli foreign policy you must take into account the legacy of the holocaust and the costs of appeasement: Netanyahu has often exploited this understandable paranoia by linking Iran to Nazi Germany. His narrative has the world stuck in 1938.

In Washington there are also factions that will not be persuaded that Iran can enrich uranium for solely peaceful ends. The chief Israeli lobby, AIPAC, commands a reasonable amount of leverage in D.C. and it has been quick to condemn Obama’s decision to relieve sanctions. A deal with AIPAC approval would essentially be the complete capitulation of Iran’s nuclear program, including the civil power elements, as well as heavy sanctions just to make sure; a hard pitch to Tehran. Additionally, the interim deal was met with mixed reaction in Congress. New sanctions that will activate in 6 months are already being tabled by Senate Republicans and Democrats, showing Obama’s tenuous power over his own party. To add to the list, America’s biggest regional Arab ally – Saudi Arabia – is an Iran-sceptic and has been covertly using its petro-influence to call for a US led regime change (revealed by Wikileaks). Finally, Obama will be out of the job in 3 years’ time, quite likely taking his passive Middle-East policy with him. Therefore, from the West’s side, to say we’ve got this issue sorted would be a tad naive.

Things are also far from straightforward within the Shia theocracy. Rouhani may have all the earmarks of a progressive, but the real power is vested with Ayatollah Khamenei – the Supreme Leader. Any deal will require his clerical stamp. Unlike Rouhani, Khamenei does not meet with his Western counterparts. If he needs convincing, the diplomacy to do that can’t come from the West. Furthermore, in a quasi-parody of Obama and the Republicans, Rouhani has to entertain Iranian ‘hardliners,’ an anti-western cohort that dub the US as the ‘Great Satan’ and will depict any compromise as a threat to the integrity and independence of the Islamic Republic. The grudge against Western influence and immorality runs deep within the relicts of the revolutionary vanguard. This powerful clique quickly denounced the interim deal as a ‘poisoned chalice,’ and will unlikely warm to anything more substantial.

The paradox of this deal is that by moving forward we see actually how far off we are; the progress has highlighted the divisions.  Of course, history has examples of many a compromise that didn’t please everyone. However, the Western jingoists and Persian isolationists wield a significant veto power that has until now produced a perennial deadlock. While it is too soon to tell how this will end, we can be sure that this issue will continue to dominate Western foreign policy for years to come.

BY: Ed Ellison

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