Dealing with Iran – Tearing down the walls of hatred and animosity

Published: April 3, 2015
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He can send US forces to attack Iran in a jiffy. However, it’s neither going to break the Iranian resolve as a nation nor will it advance critical US security concerns in the Middle East.

So we finally have a preliminary agreement, a structural framework on Iran’s nuclear program and a culmination of eight long days of talks in Lausanne, Switzerland that continued well past the self-imposed March 31 deadline.

The talks involve representatives from Iran and the P5+1 – a group comprising of the United States, Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany. An inside source, who happens to be a part of the negotiation process, tells me that negotiators have been sitting on their butts for a week now, making an honest effort to push through the never-ending, long drawn conversations and arguments. While most are used to sitting for hours together, a few have had anxiety episodes and haven’t done too well in the rather claustrophobic environment.

With respect to the Lausanne meeting, delegates reached an agreement for a peaceful Iranian nuclear program and a process to lift sanctions against Iran was agreed upon.

“We have reached solutions on key parameters of a joint comprehensive plan of action,” said Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief.

Per the Lausanne agreement, Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile will be limited, and its sole enrichment facility will be at the Natanz nuclear facility. Other nuclear facilities will be converted for other uses. The April 2 agreement slash political framework will pave the way and set the stage for talks on the technical details of a comprehensive accord, due by June 30.

Whatever the eventual outcome of the effort to bring the sullen and beleaguered Iran into mainstream international fold, I, as a humble observer of the Iran-West tussle for decades now, believe that if ever there was a time and opportunity to break the impasse, it is right now, thanks to the intense talks and negotiations that took place in the cool confines of Lausanne.

I don’t know how to say this but, since Iran and the Persian culture, for the most part, have been an important aspect of my life, every subsequent Navroz reminds me of the time when, as a kid, my late father took me to the mystical lands of Shiraz and Isfahan. I feel that the people of the country deserve and merit a second chance. The depth of the culture and the profoundly distinct values of the Persian culture have been caught in crossfire, in a fight between the West and the dreadful Ayatollahs for no particular reason, thereby dividing opinion and unnecessarily pitting people against people, nations versus nations.

A great example is of Nathaniel, a dear friend, in some ways my mentor and a rabbi who moved to Jerusalem a few years back. He’s a conservative and happens to be a huge fan of the atrocious ‘Tea Party’ Fox News channel that obviously limits his thinking to a certain set of boundaries. Not surprisingly and quite naturally, he doesn’t like President Obama.

The rabbi and I talk at least once a week. Some years back, he concluded that the two of us can’t see eye to eye on political issues.

“We are simply (left and right) wings apart”, he said.

At the human level, however, we care about each other, stay in touch and look forward to our travels to Israel and the US respectively.

Nathaniel called me the other day. After an exchange of the usual pleasantries, I sensed he was feeling ‘political’ that day and suspected that he may talk ‘Fox’ (I wouldn’t necessarily compel my readers to read Fox as ‘trash’ but let’s leave it to their better judgment) during the call. My hunch was bang on target. In came a darting inquiry from the dotting old man –

“So, what do you now think of President Obama?”

At first I didn’t understand the specific nature of the question but upon a request for elaboration, I figured that Nathaniel was referring to the president’s recent overtures with Iran and asking for my opinion.

Good gosh, are we really doing this? I thought to myself. By virtue of our humongous age gap, Nathaniel, luckily, is entitled to my respect, though not always. I also try to be brave enough to listen and let go of a lot of stuff that he says against the president, especially when he declared, right before the 2012 presidential elections, that he’ll,

“Vote for Mickey Mouse and not Obama”.

I asked the honourable rabbi what gives the right to the international community to restrict a nation’s ability to generate nuclear energy for peaceful purposes for its own population. Apparently my retort went over the holy man’s head. He said,

“But Iran has a nuclear bomb and they’ll annihilate Israel and wipe the country off the face of the planet.”

Yeah, right, I remembered. This is exactly what that notorious nut, Ahmadinejad, said a long time ago. Since his departure, I haven’t heard such words coming from Hassan Rouhani’s mouth. In fact, Rouhani showed eagerness to initiate a dialogue with the US soon after assuming the president’s office.

Interestingly enough, whereas the ping-pong duel of hollow threats and vociferous bickering was a norm during Ahmadinejad’s time, for almost two years now, it is Bibi Netanyahu, a juvenile delinquent in his own right, who has made every damn effort to continue seeking Washington’s attention. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would have thought that Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu were best of buddies who were always on the look out to up the ante and create a fuss when they felt that they were being neglected or ignored!

Even on March 29, when the nuclear talks were going on in Lausanne, Netanyahu issued a statement that highlighted the fact that he’s a chronic troublemaker, a stage player who is not only against the establishment of stability in the Middle East but wants continued stronghold on US foreign policy. Mind you, he doesn’t even seem to have Israeli interests at heart. He just tows his own line to quench his power lust.

While Netanyahu was trying to cause flutters, his ‘bestie’, John Boehner, the House of Representatives Speaker who went over several heads, showed complete disregard for protocol and invited Netanyahu only a few weeks ago to address the US Congress on the Iran issue, was himself busy condemning the nuclear talks.

It has taken a president like Mr Obama to have the guts, the intellect and the skill to bring to light Netanyahu’s fallacious ways and question his blustery enthusiasm to push America into yet another war, this time against Iran.

The point of sharing Rabbi Nathaniel’s story and talking about crazies like Netanyahu and Boehner is simply to point out that there’s no shortage of supercharged zealots who are resisting and pushing back on President Obama’s effort to convince all and sundry to transform the US-Iran relational paradigm. They are the political heretics of the modern era; delusional lunatics who thrive in chaos.

These shallow-minded imbeciles not only ever think through matters that can potentially change the course of history of millions of individuals, they also skilfully misdirect public opinion in a crushingly negative manner, killing any chances of rapprochement.

In addition to these paranoia-stricken ‘hot voices’, there are those less sceptical but non-committal ones who believe that having a relationship with Iran is a no-go area. These are the academically gifted, educated, polite and discrete opponents of shaking hands with Iran but friends of the president who think that although the idea is great, it’ll only create further complications and open a can of worms. Such people have, kind of, turned into apologists lately.

According to them if the broad middle class in Iran could freely choose their own path for the country to take, and could drive the policy making, they would choose the “historic opportunity”. However, Iran has been badly subverted by this theocracy – which is not in any way a democratic structure.

For the Ayatollahs, it is all about regime survival, meaning them remaining in charge. The centre of this is the so-called supreme leader and the judiciary council. But the pasdaran (revolutionary guard) is also an integral part of the power structure now. The pasdaran are not from Iran’s upper classes or even the middle class. They are from the lower middle class and small towns. They and the farmers of Iran have been given freedom to develop enterprises (including smuggling in the case of the pasdaran) and subsidies to the farmers and rural people, which they now depend on, and as a result of which they support the current regime, even fanatically. The middle class pushes the envelope in terms of private freedoms, but they have no way of gathering power in the system. There is no way regime change will come peacefully in the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, if there were a classic coup by the military (which won’t happen, because the revolutionary guards are an antidote to this), Iran might change direction. But that is a totally hypothetical point, and not plausible right now as a practical matter anyway.

The apologists are cognisant of the fact that the Obama White House is not totally deluded on this subject, but they have tended to talk themselves into believing that if Iran is properly handled, the regime will change from inside. Per the apologists, that is most unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. It could happen eventually, of course, but not before Obama’s and our old age.

In light of the muddled atmosphere, I understand these reservations and I know that Obama’s plans and manoeuvres can prove to be highly risky, costing the US dearly. But for those who are gullible or just extraordinary dreamers, like yours truly, and perhaps the president as well, there’s a whole world out there, beyond the narrow alleys of the business-as-usual strategy or appeasing a bunch of so-called allies who think only of their own parochial interests but fail to take into consideration what is right for the US as a country.

President Obama is an incredible thinker. He certainly believes in the adage,

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Speed thrills but kills. Haste makes waste. He can send US forces to attack Iran in a jiffy. However, it’s neither going to break the Iranian resolve as a nation nor will it advance critical US security concerns in the Middle East.

On the contrary, by getting Iran on the negotiating table, getting firm commitments, checking out the level of their determination to get back as an active member of the international community, the president can ensure that the Iranians will stay on course to reform and behave as a responsible global role player at least for the next 15 years. The thoroughness of the negotiations that have taken place in Lausanne has been amazingly phenomenal with impeccably jotted down details. A solemn effort has been made not to let anything slip through the cracks.

When there’s commitment in one’s armour, impossible is nothing. One just marches on and it’s only a matter of time when success becomes one’s best friend. Watching Obama pushing for reconciliation with Iran so tactfully and encouraging his team of negotiators to carry on in a persistent manner is just like looking at an orchestra conductor trying to bring out the best from the resources at his disposal.

Obama has taken plenty of heat from proponents and supporters of the Israeli prime minister. His strained relationship with Bibi is known to every kid and their mother in Washington DC. However, Obama’s consistent snubbing of Bibi and Bibi’s constant misdemeanours have only proven the fact that Bibi essentially wants to keep his constituency happy, keep winning elections and not ever looking at the bigger picture and how his policies have held hostage a peace process that can augur well for not only Iran but perhaps the entire Middle East region. We can’t live in a time capsule and Bibi should realise that. He needs to let go of the demons in his head and endeavour to share the US attention with others.

Bibi must learn to let go.

As for the US and Iran, this may herald the dawn of an interesting era. Whereas many here have finally realised that democracy is not just the prerequisite for a healthy economy, the trend toward befriending a nation that the US un-friended eons ago is gaining strength.

Despite the involvement of so many technicalities, President Obama’s consistency is bound to pay off. This is one of those times when God goes silent on us, wants us to use the faculties of mind to the best of our abilities and work things out. Just a little while ago, the president came under fire for easing off on Cuba. Lately, he started to take chances and they are paying off. The fact that his post-Lausanne agreement statement was aired live on Iranian TV and applauded by that country’s population has only raised his stature as an international diplomat and leader of the free world.

Beyond the sweet talk and niceties, one is glad that some folks, who matter in the US, are trying their best to make people see reason and are questioning the rationale of a long list of matters that should have been paid attention to decades ago. Better late than never.

As for the politics of the US-Iran issue, the bottom line is that it’s all about scoring points. There’s not much sincerity involved. What matters the most are the pressing human considerations which are not only easier to deal with but are devoid of any bureaucratic, diplomatic and governmental hurdles. It’s a question of clicking hearts and emotions.

All around me, I see Jews, Muslims, Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, and Arabs contributing wholesomely and creatively, living peacefully and even conducting business together. Max’s, a Jewish-Muslim owned restaurant, located in Washington suburbs is one such example. What brings us all together is the human part of the deal of life and that’s all that matters at the end. The reason why the Nathaniels, the Netanyahus and the Boehners exist amongst us is simply to correct our civilisational course.

While differences divide us, our common interests join us.

In the days and weeks to come, as I intently watch the post-Laussane action and the progress of talks until the end of June, I’ll not only hope that the negotiators look past the obvious but will continue to dream of the day when Americans and Iranians will get on the path of a cordial and harmonious relationship. An Obama-Rouhani presidential summit will be a perfect start to proceedings.

Peaceful coexistence is a distant possibility but not impossible to achieve.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.