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The rebirth of Iran through diplomacy

In the last hours of the night of April 2, a historic primary agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, known as the framework for the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (JCPOA), was announced by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the French, British and German foreign ministers as well as representatives from China and Russia, in front of hundreds of news-thirsty journalists in the conference room of the Rolex Learning Center at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.

Iran and the group of five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) plus Germany, known as the P5+1, have been negotiating intensely for 18 months to find a solution for the standoff that had marred Iran’s relations with the international community for about 10 years. It was the fulfillment of the main electoral promise of Hassan Rouhani who was elected President of Iran in June 2013, to constructively engage with the world powers and resolve the decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

The framework for the comprehensive agreement, architected by Foreign Minister Zarif and his counterparts in the P5+1, gives the international community sufficient assurances that Iran’s nuclear activities, initiated in 1950s with the sponsorship of the U.S. government itself, will not deviate in a way which can result in the production of atomic weapons and will remain entirely peaceful.

The current agreement is a continuing plan for Iran, which after an interim agreement concluded on November 24, 2013, in Geneva, scaled back some of its sensitive nuclear ventures. In return, certain portions of the sanctions imposed against Iran — like the punitive measure to prevent it from expanding its atomic activities—were suspended. The new comprehensive deal, which Iran and the P5+1 now must finalize in three months, will result in the complete termination of all the nuclear-related sanctions — once Iran implements voluntary actions to limit and restrict its nuclear program.

The majority of Iranians favor a nuclear deal with the big powers, and are content that after three decades of animosity and enmity, Iran and the United States have put aside their stubbornness and come to the negotiation table to resolve their disagreements. The failed foreign policy of ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exacerbated the nuclear tensions, resulting in severe, biting economic sanctions against Iran through six UNSC resolutions, the unilateral sanctions of the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and India as well as the oil embargo of the European Union.

President Rouhani, seen as a moderate and pragmatist leader, reformed Iran’s combative foreign policy, abandoned the hawkish rhetoric of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and revived Iran’s diplomatic apparatus. Especially intelligent was the nomination of Mohammad Javad Zarif as the foreign minister. Zarif, a prolific university professor educated in the United States, was the Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007. He is the first foreign minister in the history of the Islamic Republic whose education and career background is relevant to international relations and foreign policy. He is popular with young Iranians because of his active presence on social media, his fluent and smooth English language skills and his neat appearance.

Upon his return to Tehran on April 2, Foreign Minister Zarif received a hero’s welcome. His Facebook and Twitter pages are full of compliments from enthusiastic Iranians who appreciate his diplomatic finesse and dexterity in bringing the nuclear controversy closer to an end. Masses poured into the streets of Tehran that night, cheering and rallying, waving the flag of Iran, sharing flowers and candies with fellow citizens as a sign of satisfaction.

Ordinary Iranians understand that to have better relations with the outside world, the nuclear controversy should be resolved first. They remember the eight-year term of Ahmadinejad, when Iran’s “rial” became one of the most worthless currencies in the world and inflation hit 45%. Canada and the U.K. closed down their embassies in Tehran following the escalation of disputes under Ahmadinejad. His fiery speeches at the UN General Assembly sessions turned into scenes for the disparagement of Iran and its leaders.

But Iranian youth, especially those not born when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, yearn for a more prosperous, peaceful and happy life and look for better opportunities for advancement and progress. They care less for the number of centrifuges spinning in Natanz and Fordow, and more for the chance to live free from the economic plight imposed on them as a result of the sanctions. They don’t always concur with the official narrative of the conservatives that nuclear energy is “an inalienable right.” They believe more in the right to safe roads and an aviation industry, inexpensive medicine and medical services, educational opportunities, employment, housing and a constructive relationship with the world. These are the rights that Iranians have nearly forgone simply to preserve nuclear energy as a power leverage.

Of course there are those unhappy with an Iran-U.S. rapprochement. These are mostly conservatives whose long-term interests are tied to economic monopolies, exclusive and unrivaled trade with China and continued hostility with the U.S., the time-tested enemy which can be held responsible for all the mismanagements and domestic failures.

A growing number of Iranians intend to travel abroad for education or work. On any given day, there are nearly 1,000 applicants across several official test centres in Iran, taking the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam, a qualification that better enables Iranians to pursue an education or career in Europe, North America or Australia. They understand that to get visas from the foreign embassies in Tehran easily and to afford travel and living expenses, their country needs a robust economy, empowered through partnerships with the international community.

They have seen the example of Mexico: at a conference in Calgary in 2009, former Mexican President Vicente Fox said of his country’s nuclear plans, “We relinquished the nuclear energy, and are now one of the world’s top 10 economies.” Perhaps Iran will follow the Mexican instance.

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist, media correspondent and peace activist

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