Last Thursday, when I saw that the United States, Iran and other world powers finally established a framework nuclear agreement I felt a rush of joy — a swelling of mild euphoria rushed from my chest throughout my body, reaffirming to myself what a giant politics nerd I am.
This nuclear agreement is big. For over 30 years, since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the United States and Iran have been bitter foes. After the expulsion of the Shah and the subsequent hostage crisis, the two countries have meandered from diplomatic conflict, to shadow fighting, back to diplomatic conflict, rinse and repeat. Iran’s nuclear program has been of particular contention in recent years. Last Thursday’s framework nuclear agreement is a vital first step for normalizing relations between the United States and Iran.
The framework nuclear agreement is a rough blueprint (baby-blueprint?) for reigning in Iran’s nuclear program in return for United Nations relief from sanctions, which had been imposed for the country’s noncompliance with nuclear treaties. The agreement is a strong framework for a final deal to be established by June 30.
Many details still need to be worked out, such as the specifics of inspections for compliance and how to lift sanctions. But nothing in the framework seems impossible to build into a concrete deal by the final June deadline.
Experts agree that the terms of the framework are as favorable to American interests as realistically possible. Iran’s nuclear program will be effectively neutered, leaving it a vestige of its present robustness. The breakout time for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon will increase from two to three months right now to a full year, the amount of time that the Obama administration believes necessary to stop Iran if it does in fact decide to build a nuclear bomb.
This nuclear deal, if it moves from framework to reality, is much more than a resolution to the conflict over the Iranian nuclear program. It would be the first stepping stone to normalizing relations between the United States and Iran, a long overdue diplomatic necessity for any chance of a peaceful Middle East.
The United States needs to engage Iran, if not as an ally, at least as a frenemy. Iran is too powerful to overcome. It is a large country with a rich cultural history and a population of almost 80 million. And Iran is one of the most influential, if not the single most influential, states in the Middle East, with its support to the Assad regime in Syria, Shiite sectarian militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Unless the United States were to go to war with Iran, we could not overcome it in the geopolitical power games of the Middle East. And we do not want another war in the Middle East.
Let me repeat that: WE DO NOT WANT ANOTHER WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST!
President Obama cited avoiding war with Iran as the primary motivation for the deal. In Obama’s speech about the agreement, he asked those who will inevitably criticize the deal (looking at you, Republicans, Saudis and Netanyahu), “do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?”
This deal is the least-worst option. The only other alternative to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, besides war (no! no! no!), would be to hope that the UN sanctions eventually force Tehran to give up its nuclear aspirations. But we have been sanctioning Iran for decades, and while the sanctions have slowed nuclear development, they have not come remotely close to fully stopping it.
With war off the table and American-Iranian relations normalizing, the powers can work together to resolve the myriad of Middle Eastern conflicts.
To be sure, Washington and Tehran have radically different interests. The nuclear deal will not be a panacea for the manifold problems of the Middle East. But the deal would establish a détente that would allow the powers to have constructive dialogue working toward solutions, rather than the shadow conflicts and diplomatic crises that currently plague American-Iranian relations and further tear apart the Middle East.
If the framework nuclear agreement were to become reality, it would be one of the seminal accomplishments of the Obama presidency and an axial in American foreign policy for the 21st century. The framework is fairly robust, with great potential to become a solid deal by the June 30 deadline. Let’s just hope that hawks in the United States and hardliners in Iran do not find a way to destroy this transformative diplomatic development before it becomes a reality.
Ben Perlmutter is a College junior from Chappaqua, New York. His column appears in every Tuesday issue of the Wheel.