Americans and Iranians Internally Divided by Nuclear Negotiations

By: Patrick Foley

The recent negotiations between Iran and the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Germany (the P5+1) have catalyzed passionate arguments for and against the Iranian deal within America, but to assume the people of the US are the only population containing drastically different views on the talks is a mistake. In America there is a stark division between those for and those against any deal with Iran, and each camp contains diverse rationales. Opinion pieces from Iranian writers, Iranian immigrants living in America, and Iranian civilians that have begun to circulate in mainstream news outlets show as much diversity as does America’s own national discussion.

The multilateral negotiations surrounding the technicalities of Iran’s nuclear program have come to be known in the American media as the “Iran Deal”. Essentially, the P5+1 have agreed to ease their strangling sanctions from Iran’s economy and, in exchange, the Middle Eastern country will pursue nuclear technology in a way that is conducive to accessing the benefits of nuclear energy while extending Iran’s “break-out” period. In this context, the break-out period is the shortest possible amount of time it could take a country to transition from perfect accordance to international limits on their nuclear program to having a functional nuclear weapon. Most experts agree that Iran’s current break-out period is about three months and Washington announced last month that the deal in its current form would lengthen that period to about a year.

Many Americans agree that quadrupling the window of time their government has to address an Iranian nuclear threat is extremely valuable, but the argument for or against the Iran Deal is unabated. The sanctions that this deal would gradually lift were originally placed on Iran through the United Nations Security Council and regional and national authorities, as a deterrent against the Middle Eastern country from pursuing its nuclear program without restraint. While advocates for the deal point to the significant nuclear constraints it would impose on Iran, critics question the verifiability of these constraints and their longer-term impact on regional and world stability. Other critics assert that by removing the interlocking system of sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear, missile, energy, shipping, transportation, and financial sectors, the P5 + 1 are rewarding Iran for standing up to the international community.

Many young Iranians who currently live in Iran or who have emigrated elsewhere feel that the negotiations are not only a matter of granting nuclear energy to Iran, but they also represent the first steps to normalizing relations between the United States and Iran. Older emigrants from Iran argue that Iran’s poor human rights record makes this normalization something to avoid rather than something to strive for. Indeed, the argument between prioritizing a hard line with human rights violators and normalizing relationships with old enemies does not seem to offer an easy answer. Both critics and advocates of the deal agree that the elimination over time of the harsh sanctions Iran has been living will allow an interdependent trade relationship to develop between Iran and the United States. This relationship will act as a major incentive to keep relations positive between both countries, and while some Iranians see this as being a mutually beneficial relationship, many others see this relationship as a way for America to make any future sanctions that much more painful.

There have been strong arguments made by Americans and Iranians on both sides of the debate about the Iran Deal, but many political analysts from both countries see an inherent benefit in trying something new. As New York Times op-ed contributor Reza Aslan puts it, “The fact of the matter is that three and a half decades of anger and bitterness, of sanctions and isolation, have had no positive effect at all on the nature of the Iranian regime. That’s because isolating a country does not change its behavior. Engaging it does.”

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