Sunday, January 17, 2016
Iran And United States Relations (Diplomacy Works!)
Today, the United States and Iran are generally considered to be enemies. There is good reason for this -- and both countries must accept part of the blame for that.
The roots for this troubled relationship go back to 1953. In 1951, Iran became a democracy, and they elected a prime minister named Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was extremely popular with Iranian citizens, especially after he nationalized the petroleum industry and oil reserves in that country.
This was not viewed positively by Western nations like the United States. Those nations had controlled the oil industry in Iran, and they didn't want to give up that control. They could have just negotiated to purchase that oil, but they chose another path. They (primarily the United States) engineered a coup -- ousting the Mosaddegh government, and re-installing the Shah (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) as the ruler of Iran.
The Shah ruled as a dictator for the next quarter century with the support of the United States, and democracy in Iran disappeared. It was not until early 1979, that the Shah was run out of the country and an islamic theocracy established to replace him. Later that year, hardline islamic demonstrators stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking dozens of Americans hostage. President Carter was unable to negotiate the release of the hostages, and an ill-fated rescue attempt failed. The hostages were finally released on the last day of the Carter presidency -- thanks to an arms for hostages deal negotiated by the incoming president -- Ronald Reagan.
Since then, the two nations have been enemies, and have had no official diplomatic relations.
This did not change until the Obama administration. President Obama initiated diplomatic talks with Iran -- spurred primarily by the fear that Iran was trying to develop a nuclear weapon. The United States and other Western nations began protracted talks with Iranian officials -- and those talks were successful. In 2015, an agreement was reached. Even though the agreement was opposed by many American politicians (primarily Republicans), it went into effect.
This new ability of the United States and Iran to actually talk to each other (instead of just throwing bellicose charges at each other through the media) is having some positive results. Last week, some American navy members entered Iranian waters and were taken into custody by Iran. They were released with harm within 24 hours -- something that would have been unthinkable a year or two ago.
Then yesterday, we learned than Iran and the U.S. have agreed to a prisoner swap. Iran is releasing 5 Americans they held (and allowing the Iranian wife of one of those prisoners to leave with her husband). The U.S. is dropping charges against 7 individuals accused of violating the Iranian sanctions.
Also yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran has complied with all of the terms of the agreement between it and the United States (and Western nations). Because of that, the sanctions have been removed, and the freeze on Iranian funds will soon be lifted.
The upshot of all of this is that diplomacy works. When nations actually talk with each other, amazing things can be accomplished -- and it can be done without innocent people being killed. We are not near the establishment of normal relations between the United States and Iran yet, but at least such a dream is not outside the realm of possibility someday.
Sadly though, the working relationship that has been established with Iran will depend in the future on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The Republicans (all of their presidential candidates) still consider Iran to be an enemy that cannot be trusted. They would destroy what has been established -- and we would go back to sanctions, or even a new war. But the Democratic presidential candidates (all three of them) could be counted on to further this diplomatic progress. It's a choice between going down the road to war, or taking the path to peaceful diplomacy -- and that's something voters need to seriously consider when they go to the polls in November.