It's Time for the United States and Iran to Turn Talk Into Action

How the United States and Iran can make history and mend their strained relationship by finally securing a nuclear deal.

The United States and Iran weren’t always at odds, well, at least not until 1979. It is time for this 35 year feud to come to an end. Iran and the United States don’t have to be friends but they can stop being enemies. Getting a nuclear deal is the first step in mending the two parties’ relationship. But how did we get here to begin with?

The Islamic Revolution of Iran ended a key alliance with the United States that had lasted nearly 40 years. During that time, the United States liked its ally so much, that it invested in Iran’s nuclear energy capacity through the “U.S. Atoms for Peace program.” In 1967, this program supplied Iran with a 5 megawatt nuclear research reactor along with highly enriched uranium as its fuel. The reactor was part of the newly established Tehran Nuclear Research Center. In other words, the United States equipped Iran with the foundation of a nuclear program. A program that is infamous today. In addition to the reactor, the United States provided education in nuclear engineering.

Then everything changed. The fall of the Shah brought an anti-western government to power in Iran. This put Iran’s nuclear program on notice in the West. However, Ayatollah Khomeini had other plans and banned the nuclear program upon assuming power. He deemed nuclear weapons as “un-Islamic” (sentiments also echoed by the current ayatollah through his occasional Fatwas).

Infrastructural damage caused by the Iran-Iraq war brought the nuclear back to life. The resumption of its nuclear program, coupled with a questionable record on transparency, gave the international community pause. Is Iran seeking a nuclear weapon?

Now is the time for the United States and Iran to bury the hatchet. Since Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani assumed power in 2013, there seems to be more willingness to work with the Americans. Something we have seldom seen from Iran’s previous six presidents. This comes to no surprise considering the fact that Iran’s newly instituted government has the highest number of US college alums serving in any foreign government cabinet in the world.

During President Obama’s September UN speech, he urged Iran to “seize the historic opportunity” of a nuclear deal. This deal could serve as the catalyst for deeper engagement that would serve the interests of both Iran and the United States. If Iran is serious about their claims, and wants the world to believe that their nuclear program truly is “peaceful” then this is the perfect moment to prove it. Moreover, the United States could finally, once and for all, get rid of the festering sore that is Iran’s nuclear program by simply coming to the table. The United States must recognize that the incentives associated with working Iran far outweigh the challenges of being at odds.

If a deal can be struck before the November deadline, the possibility of finally lifting the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and society for years would be imminent. Lifting sanctions wouldn’t just benefit Iran of course, the United States would open the door to a sea of new investment opportunities in Iran’s lucrative oil and natural gas sectors. This could allow the United States to compete with China’s monopolizing influence within Iran’s oil industry. If there’s one thing that smoothens out a strained relationship, its good trade.

Iran has repeated time and time again that they are not interested in developing a nuclear weapon. If this is true, then securing a nuclear deal with the United States could allow them to continue operating their nuclear program under tight safeguards. This is a far more attractive option than continuing the decades of economic sanctions have choked the Iranian economy.

For the West, the sanctions regime did its job and helped bring Iran to the negotiating table. If the United States and its allies carry out another round of sanctions, it may risk undermining the good faith built by the nuclear negotiations.

President Rouhani has so far shown that he is more competent, and pragmatic than any of his predecessors. President Obama appears dedicated to finally solving the Iranian “nuclear issue” once and for all. The impending November deadline is creating a sense of urgency on both sides – no one wants to take the blame for losing the deal. The perfect elements are in place for a historic deal to be made in epic diplomatic fashion.

Photo from The White House