14 Jul 2015

Today’s Iran deal is a triumph for international diplomacy

As we drove to the Austria Centre where today’s Iran deal will be announced, the Iranian journalists on the bus were singing a song from a puppet show they used to watch on TV as kids.


Some were exiles, reporting for western media, while others work for Iranian outlets. All were thrilled that finally, after 12 years of fractious negotiations, the US and Iran have come to an accommodation.

Officially this is a deal between Iran on the one side and the UN Security Council countries plus Germany on the other. The main point is that Iran has agreed to curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

But everyone knows that the real cause for celebration is that long-time enemies Iran and the US have opened up new era of, if not friendship, at least cooperation.

Value of diplomacy

So maybe this is a moment to think about the value of diplomacy. The famous phrase from the Prussian military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz is “war is the continuation of diplomacy with other means”. But on this occasion diplomacy alone has worked.

“The real achievement may be that a major international conflict – a conflict that has brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war in recent years – has been resolved through a compromise achieved by diplomacy,” writes Trita Parsi of National Iranian American Council.

“This is perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of the ongoing diplomacy. Neither side is negotiating the terms of its defeat or capitulation.”

Regime change, not compromise

There will be many who oppose the deal, not least the Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu and many US Republicans. They believe in regime change, not compromise – they want to force the Islamic Republic to collapse. But that’s not going to happen. They
have presented no reasonable alternative to a today’s diplomatic accord.

Gulf countries are also suspicious of a deal that they think will embolden Iran to meddle in the Arab world, further arming and supporting Shia groups such as Hezbollah and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This is a much more reasonable objection, one which the Americans must address.

Stopping the spread of Isis

Iran does have an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East that needs to be balanced with the influence of Gulf countries. But, having said that, Iran is implacably opposed to al-Qaeda and Islamic State. This deal opens the path for cooperation to stop the spread of IS, which most western governments see as the greatest threat for decades.

The British government has increased the budget of the Department for International Development and pledged to maintain Ministry of Defence spending to the Nato standard of 2 per centĀ of GDP. Meanwhile, the Foreign Office budget has been cut.

Far be it from me to champion any department of the British government over another, but after the disasters of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, today is a day to celebrate a triumph for international diplomacy.

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