Marino de Medici: Peaceful straws in Middle East winds?

By Marino de Medici:

As Christmas approaches, there are a couple of developments that should lift our spirits.

The first is the nuclear deal with Iran that in spite of the constant protestations by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has long term implications for success.

The second is the report by Morgan Stanley analysts that as a consequence of that interim agreement and of the emergence of the United States as the world’s largest oil producer by 2015, the price of oil will fall 20 percent in the next two years.

Yet the single most important development, associated with the breakthrough in the negotiations with Iran, is that diplomacy works. In fact, in this age of instant communications and astounding disclosures by whistleblowers and other inside sources, it is extraordinary that the Obama administration was able to initiate secret exchanges with the Iranians in Oman, ably orchestrated by Secretary of State Kerry, whose activism and personal relationships with many world leaders are making him a protagonist of American foreign policy in a far larger and more productive measure than his predecessor Hillary Clinton.

If the new Iranian leadership accepted and pursued a path of conflict resolution with the United States, it is not because it is dead set on acquiring nuclear weapons under the guise of diplomatic negotiations, but for the sound calculation that finding an avenue of understanding and compromise with the United States is absolutely necessary for the economic recovery of the nation. The simple point is that sanctions have reached their intended result and that Iranians know that producing a bomb would ensure a devastating reaction.

For years, Israel has been chomping at the bit to bomb Iran, knowing full well that the Iranians would not be in a condition to retaliate without having most of their territory wiped off the map. They are not suicidal and they are clever enough to know that the bomb is valuable only if not produced.

The recent deal is a victory for the United States and its partners in the so-called P5+1 group for a number of reasons, starting with Iran’s stoppage of uranium enriching beyond 5 percent and the neutralization of the stockpile enriched beyond that point. In addition, there will be no further development of the Arak plant, which is theoretically capable of producing plutonium. Finally, Iran will give daily access to inspectors at the Natanz and
Fordo nuclear sites. In return, Iran will receive sanctions relief worth about 7 billion dollars. The long and the short of the agreement is that the threat of a military strike has been lifted, at least temporarily.

Another aspect of the agreement is crucial: the concessions are subject to reversal if the agreement is not carried out by Iran according to its specific terms. Americans should ask themselves if the old adage of President Reagan – trust but verify – applies to Iran as it did once to Secretary Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. I covered the summit meetings in Geneva and Reykjavik that fashioned the U.S. – USSR disarmament agreements and
I remember how Reagan’s trust carried the day and made those agreements possible.

We may not trust the Iranians completely but the fact that the United States was able to negotiate with Iran in secret for months prior to the deal is a strong indication that, as in Reykjavik, we are witnessing the unfolding of wider implications of the deal reached with Iran in Geneva. It seems to me that condemning the deal and calling for a strategy of “distrust and verify,” as Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor is doing while echoing Netanyahu’s bellicose intransigence, is a poor stance for the simple reason that the United States is negotiating from a position of strength and that the deal itself looks quite favorable to the U.S.

A large sector of American public opinion has come around to the view that opening the way to the implementation of the Iranian deal is another step away from getting even more entangled in the Middle East by acceding to the Israeli urgings to bomb Iran and from the disastrous prospect of having to put U.S. boots on the ground in Iran. The obvious caveat in that region is that a military confrontation with Iran would intensify the proliferation of the major threat to America and its interests, the Salafist terrorism and
the breeding grounds of al Quaeda.

It is time to lower the level of hostility with Iran that has contributed to the spreading of terrorism and to get Iran engaged. A successful implementation of the agreement with Iran may even bring a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and reduce the sectarian warfare that is engulfing the Middle East. One only has to look at the devastating internecine violence in Iraq to understand the impelling need to try new avenues of negotiation and conflict resolution.

Let us trust that Kerry may carry his work further and that better sense may prevail, not just in Israel but in the U.S. Congress, where support is essential.

Marino de Medici is a Winchester resident and formerly the dean of foreign correspondents in the United States.