When politically-centrist Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in June, spectators around the world questioned whether the country, which had long been a thorn in the United States’ side, could be headed towards peace.
Well, after months of formal negotiations, they were right, thanks to an age-old Nixonian tool that helped broker the agreement.
On Saturday, six world powers reached a historic interim agreement regarding Iran’s disputed nuclear programs after decades of diplomatic stalemate.
The six-month deal, which agrees to ease $7 billions in sanctions in return for temporary curbs on the country’s nuclear weapons program, has been considered by the Obama administration a momentous step towards restoring diplomatic relations with the Shi’ite nation.
The agreement opens “a new path to a world that is more secure,” President Obama said during an unusual late night speech at the White House. “Iran cannot use negotiations as cover to advance its [nuclear] program.”
After the agreement was announced, Rohani took to Twitter calling the agreement a great step in Iran’s political progression: “Iranian people’s vote for #moderation & constructive engagement + tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons.”
But despite its adulation, not all countries have accepted the agreement with such optimism — wondering whether the U.S. is turning its back on its regional allies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the deal, calling it “a historic mistake” that leaves Iran with its nuclear capabilities mostly intact. Last month, he called the Iranian president a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,” he said about the deal.
However, the criticism may not be just about the deal, but rather a byproduct of how the deal was reached. For months, U.S. and Iranian officials met secretly alongside formal negotiations in order to come closer to a deal. They asked the press not to publish those details until after the deal was announced.
When President Nixon, who famously coined the term “secret diplomacy,” opened relations with China, foreign allies and the American public also scoffed at his plan.
Minoru Kusuda, secretary to Japan’s Chief of Cabinet, looking back at the period in 1996 said, “there was a joke circulating among Japanese diplomats that one of them had had a nightmare that one morning he would wake up and find U.S. and China had established relations and failed to tell Japan. This nightmare had become a reality.”
Similarly, American unions were very critical of President Nixon and his relations with China: “The abrupt and complete change to U.S. policy toward Communist China …have given rise to much uncertainty and new fear,” responded AFL-CIO leaders in 1972.
Now, decades later, the U.S. and China have a strong trade alliance and have undeniably become the world’s two global economic superpowers as a result.
Although Iran has neither the same population size nor economic stature as China, it could potentially serve as an ally to the U.S. as it becomes a greater regional player because of its central location and energy exports.
The interim deal, therefore, doesn’t guarantee that U.S.-Iranian relations will ultimately improve – because, after all, it is only temporary – but world leaders should not criticize it simply because it’s against U.S. foreign policy status quo.
Simply, it’s a beautiful idea that, if successful, could ultimately lead to the end of Iran’s nuclear program and eventual bilateral relations.