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Letter from Iran: diplomacy trumps hostility?

The signing of the accord and the eventual loosening of the shackles of sanctions is a remarkable exercise in peace-building through negotiation and diplomacy.

Linda Briskman
27 August 2015
Celebratory rally, Tehran. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.

Celebratory rally, Tehran. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.The Global Day of Peace for Iran ushered in prospects for a new era of international relationships. On 15 August, rallies in over 100 cities throughout the world expressed support for the nuclear agreement that was signed in Vienna. Demonstrators called on those opposing the deal to stop their attempts to discredit the agreement, promoting the accord as contributing to the enhancement of global peace.

After the agreement was finalised, the EU High Representative and the Iranian Foreign Minister said in a joint statement:

“With courage, political will, mutual respect and leadership, we delivered on what the world was hoping for: a shared commitment to peace and to join hands in order to make our world safer. This is an historic day also because we are creating the conditions for building trust and opening a new chapter in our relationship.”

For the past three weeks in Tehran I have experienced the celebratory mood following the signing of the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. A sense of optimism glows under summer skies. Iranians look forward to reprieve from long-standing international sanctions that have wreaked havoc on their lives.

Tehran celebrations. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.

Tehran celebrations. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.This is my tenth visit to Iran. The mood is infectious. My visits to Iran are always filled with warmth and hospitality but until now there existed an aura of deep concern about the impact that sanctions were having on everyday life. Those imposing sanctions have done so with disregard for hardship and suffering, by creating what has been described by sanctions-critics as collective punishment.

People living in sanctions-supporting countries have failed to acknowledge the humanity of Iranians, thanks to a largely biased western media.  There are few who would know that sanctions exceed economic hardship and include shortages of life-saving medicines. In spite of the fact that food and drugs are exempt from sanctions under international agreements, the situation reveals otherwise, with the universal right to health severely compromised. Foreign banks have hesitated to conduct business even when knowing that financial transactions were for medical imports. The shortage of vital imported medications, including for cancer sufferers and children with haemophilia, has been a source of anguish for patients and their families.

There have been detrimental effects on Iran’s youth. A priority for Iran in entering nuclear negotiations, says President Rouhani, is to create an environment conducive to doing business and to address the government’s concern about youth unemployment.

The signing of the accord and the eventual loosening of the shackles of sanctions is a remarkable exercise in peace-building through negotiation and diplomacy. The next stage is building trust to create an enduring legacy for the process that has begun.

Iranians celebrate. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.

Iranians celebrate. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.Iran came to the negotiating table despite proclamations that its nuclear enrichment program was for peaceful civilian purposes alone. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei insists that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam. Echoing his words this month was the statement by Foreign Minister Zarif that Iran has never sought nuclear weapons; nor will it ever seek them in the future.

Nonetheless Iran showed great preparedness to work with the P5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany). It did so with patience, forbearance, humility and dignity during a lengthy and arduous process. It did so while the world watched with uncertainty about whether a successful outcome would be achieved. The signing of the accord reveals that diplomacy trumps hostility.

Regrettably there are skeptics who oppose the agreement, primarily the Israeli government and conservatives in the United States Congress. As former Australian foreign minister, Gareth Evans, so aptly stated, critics of the deal tend to assume that Iran has no honour.

The media here in Tehran hosts daily reports from officials of countries throughout the world seeking to normalise economic relations once sanctions are lifted. Among the early interest are countries as diverse as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Pakistan. Italy and other EU countries have sought to extend economic ties with Iran. ASEAN countries have supported the agreement. Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani says the agreement “has opened a new chapter in Iran’s relations with the international community.”

Iranian celebrations. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.

Iranian celebrations. Demotix/Meysam Mim. All rights reserved.And this week brings other news. After diplomatic relationships were severed between Iran and Britain in 2011, the UK embassy is to formally reopen in Iran and the Iranian embassy will reopen in London. 

Those who revere Netanyahu and the doomsday messengers in the United States have never set foot in Iran and refuse to budge from their views of Iran as threat.  Experience shows that those open-minded enough to come here are able to shed the stereotypes depicted by western commentators. Populist depictions of a dark and gloomy Iran could not be more inaccurate in this vibrant, warm and intellectually engaged society. With tourism set to receive a financial boost, and with the hope that other countries will follow France in relaxing its travel advisory, more visitors are likely, particularly as tourism visas have been extended from 15 days to one month.  

Civil society can take heed from the Global Day of Peace for Iran. It is time for doubters to adopt an ethical position by swallowing their pride and admitting that the deal is a good one. Praise ought be bestowed on Iran for the dignified way it came to the negotiating table despite the humiliation of being unjustly targeted as a pariah state. Coercion and imposition is no longer the gameplay. The joint statement of the EU and Iran calls on “the world community to support the implementation of this historic effort.”

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