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Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Tale of two Nuclear Negotiations

Less than two weeks ago, it was announced that the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran have agreed on a nuclear deal. President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani have both worked tirelessly to initiate a sort of detente between the United States and Iran.

This nuclear deal is, for better or for worse, going to be a lasting part of President Obama's legacy. However, it's actually not the first time the United States has entered into lengthy negotiations regarding a country showing interest in nuclear capabilities that run contrary to Washington's interests.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton turned his attention towards the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea. North Korea had been, in the early 1990s, developing weapons-grade plutonium, plutonium that they had not declared to the IAEA. North Korea threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which they followed through on.

The deal was not looked upon favorably in the U.S. Congress, dominated by Republicans who believed the deal reeked of appeasement. Funding was provided to uphold the deal but was not always drawn up in full. Eventually, negotiations and the period of detente soured and completely broke down by 2003.

The DPRK's decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty motivated the United States, along with China, Japan, Russia, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to start what are now known as the Six Party Talks. The objective of the talks was to find peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear program. Though slow and frequently futile, the fifth round of talks between the participating states yielded a step forward when North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities in exchange for a plan to normalize relations with the U.S. and Japan and aid in the form of fuel.

By 2009, unfortunately, North Korea had withdrawn from the talks and continued its nuclear program, and North Korea remains an isolated totalitarian state where the average person lives in poverty, fear, and a brainwashing environment.

Less than two weeks ago, the United States emerged from more nuclear negotiations, this time with the Islamic Republic of Iran. A deal was struck by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif along with the "P5+1", representatives from each country on the U.N. Security Council (The United States, Russia, China, France, and United Kingdom) as well as Germany.

The nuclear deal has been both hailed and decried. For some, it represents a great victory for diplomacy between powers that have been at odds for decades, and the start of a new chapter. Others have claimed the nuclear deal reeks of appeasement and is a sham, that the enemy will never adhere to their promises and will continue their ways of wrongdoing, a sentiment seen in both the United States and Iran.


The relationship between the United States and Iran is a complicated one, where both countries have acted in ways deemed gravely offensive and cold by the other.

In 1953, the United States and United Kingdom engineered a coup d'etat in Iran. Back then, Iran was a constitutional monarchy, led in practice by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq and in ceremony by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Mossadeq's decision as a socialist to nationalize Iran's vast amount of oil irritated the U.S. and U.K., and coupled with the Red Scare occurring in those countries, encouraged the powers to engineer the coup. As a result of the coup, Reza Pahlavi became an absolute monarch, ruling Iran brutally and opulently. His secret police force, the SAVAK, punished dissent by torture and intimidation. While he lived in excess, ordinary Iranians starved. Iranians were furious at the decision of the United States to take in the dying Shah as the Islamic Revolution raged as many wanted the former monarch to be tried in Iran, a fate that likely would have resulted in Pahlavi's execution.

On July 3rd, 1988, the U.S.S. Vicennes shot down a civilian passenger plane, Iran Air Flight 655, over the Persian Gulf. Nearly 300 people were killed. The United States claimed it was an accident and that the plane was mistaken for an attacking military plane. But the United States never officially apologized for the grave mistake they'd made (though compensation was agreed upon and it was eventually admitted that the Vicennes was negligently responsible) and the man who ordered the attack was decorated by Former President George H.W. Bush. The event still stings Iranian hearts today.

Tehran's hands are not entirely clean, either.  During the Islamic Revolution of 1979, an angry mob of Iranians attacked the American Embassy in Iran's capital, taking fifty-two American diplomats and civilians hostage for 444 days. The Iranian government regularly organizes venomous anti-American rallies in major cities where "Death to America!" "Death to Britain!" and "Death to Israel!" are chanted by participants. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an ideologue who boasted of his denial of the Holocaust.

At the end of the day it must be remembered and acknowledged that the regime calling the shots in Tehran is authoritarian, repressive, and oftentimes brutal, even resorting at times to public hangings from construction cranes.

Does that mean this deal with Iran is going to go the way of the deal the United States tried to strike with Pyongyang?

It may be too early to tell, but there are some instances that point to the deal holding up.

There is extensive detail on the repression carried out by the Iranian regime, but Iran's government is not quite as extreme as North Korea's or even some other regimes in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia comes to mind). Iran is a relatively well-developed, stable, and functioning country with an emerging middle class. North Korea is so incompetent at even providing food to its people that at one time it even asked Mongolia, a country with a tenth of its population, a large nomadic sect, and hunger problems of its own, for food aid. North Koreans are brainwashed and isolated from the outside world, endlessly subjected to propaganda from Pyongyang. Iranians, despite government censorship, have considerable access to the outside world and were famous for their use of Twitter during the 2009 Green Uprising. Furthermore, Iranians are not afraid to make their voices heard even if it does not always yield the desired result. When election results came out in 2009 giving the presidency back to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians who supported Mir Hossein Mousavi poured into the streets to protest and demand a recount, facing police brutality and undeserved imprisonment.

It's true that the Green Uprising of 2009 was eventually crushed by the government, but the desire of the Iranian people to be heard has not been lost. The election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013 represents a desire of the Iranian people to see their country turn a page with old enemies such as the United States, as Rouhani campaigned on his desire to engage Washington. Many Iranians actually do not subscribe to the venomous anti-American propaganda of the government any more, and Rouhani won very convincingly with the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his campaign promises. This month, Rouhani delivered on a key campaign promise. Next February, Iranians will vote in their parliamentary elections, and the path of continued reform looks like the most popular. If Tehran tries to pull the wool over the Iranian people's eyes again, the government could see another wave of angry protest headed their way.

Nothing of the sort exists in North Korea. The North Korean people have absolutely no say in what their government does.

The Iranian government may be repressive, but it is not irrational. Many consider Tehran's sabre-rattling towards Israel vile and infuriating, but as North Korea wouldn't dare directly attack its southern neighbor, it's hard to imagine the Iranian government actually launching an offensive against Israel after months upon months of negotiations and efforts to produce diplomacy with western powers.

It's also important to consider the propaganda wing of Iran's government. One of the cornerstones of the Islamic Republic government as it was swept into power was fierce distrust of the United States and Britain, the powers that inflicted an authoritarian Shah upon the Iranian people. North Korea exhibits similar revolutionary spite alluding to the Korean War in the 1950s and the invasion of their land by American-led troops. North Korea, unlike Iran, has never allowed wiggle room for its people to think anything else. By contrast, a young population in Iran, many of whom don't remember the Islamic Revolution, let alone the 1953 coup, may not buy that message as much as older Iranians do. Iran's government harps on the 1979 revolution and its messages, but as closer relations are sought with the sworn enemies of yesterday, how long can that revolutionary spirit stay aflame? It is possible the Iranian government will be forced to adopt or change its revolutionary ideology if this agreement holds up. That doesn't mean the government will fall to a new revolution or vote itself out of power like some of the communist governments in central Europe did in the 1980s, but the page may be turning. It's probably best to let it turn rather than to violently flip the pages back to the beginning.

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