Iran nuclear deal could change country's place in the world: Nahlah Ayed

The nuclear deal announced by Iran and western powers this morning is no grand bargain, but it opens a diplomatic door for a pariah nation, writes Nahlah Ayed.

Deal allows UN inspectors to press for visits to Iranian military sites

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      It is no grand bargain.

      It doesn't even begin to address the core of Iran's problematic relations with the West, much less settle the region's multilayered conflicts.

      But it opens a door where there was once a wall decades thick.

      Many will quibble with the details. In fact, there will be bitter arguments over them.

      But once approved by U.S. and Iranian lawmakers, the historic deal concluded this morning between Iran and world powers will stunt the Mideast nation's nuclear capability and put a nuclear bomb out of its reach for more than a decade, in return for a lifting of sanctions.

      Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech after a nuclear agreement was announced in Vienna, in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday. Rouhani said "a new chapter" has begun in his nation's relations with the world. (Ebrahim Norooz/Associated Press)

      That deal has the full backing of the Obama and Putin administrations (a rare moment of agreement these days), as well as major European players, the International Atomic Energy Agency — and Iran.

      That alone makes an admittedly dangerous neighbourhood safer. It averts the alternative: war.

      A country of strategic importance

      Ever so slightly, but significantly, a geopolitical axis has also been tilted.

      For the many Iranians we met in Tehran last month desperate for an end to their isolation, this is a major home victory for moderation and compromise the likes of which they have never witnessed.

      Not since the collapse of the Soviet Union has a country of such strategic importance reset its terms of engagement with the rest of the world in such a transformative way.

      Furthermore, in a region rife with conflict, what had been thought an intractable problem has been solved through negotiation and diplomacy.

      Iran apparently becomes the first nation to escape the UN's Chapter 7 sanctions without first being plunged into war.

      All of this has implications that go beyond the ambitions of one country, or the travails of one region.

      U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was one of the main negotiators in the Iran nuclear deal. (Leonhard Foeger/Associated Press)
      A cold war of sorts has culminated in what amounts to a semblance of a truce. In the process, it brought Moscow, an Iranian ally, and Washington to the same table, with the same goals in mind.

      When was the last time that happened?

      The negotiation that spanned days and nights, weeks and years in the luxury hotels of Europe sets the standard for diplomacy and peace-making.

      The resulting deal "can open the way to a new chapter in international relations and show that… diplomacy can overcome decades of tensions," said Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief.

      Players on all sides of the negotiation admitted at various stages of the talks that this kind of change in Iran's place in the world introduces opportunities that would have been impossible otherwise.

      Many critics seem to undervalue the significance of any country in the Middle East successfully negotiating anything while sitting at a table with world powers. They also seem to underestimate the psychological impact of even the appearance of said country doing so with its pride intact.

      For all the Iranian establishment's efforts at painting the negotiations as an extension of the "struggle" against the West — and the Iranian negotiators as "diplomatic warriors" — there was no hiding that their country was speaking with the enemy instead of fighting it.

      There is no hiding, now, that this sort of engagement can, sometimes, work.

      A new Iran?

      An engaged Iran can play a crucial role in the fight against ISIS — Iran is, after all, on the front line of that conflict. With communication lines open, Tehran could possibly be cajoled into playing a constructive role in solving the region's endless problems.

      Iran's state news agency IRNA said on Tuesday the country's nuclear facilities would remain operational under the deal. (Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA)

      Perhaps that's wishful thinking. But "could" is the operative word, and that wouldn't be possible without engagement.

      Iran won't soon alter its adversarial policy on Israel, nor change its deadly support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, nor its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which plays a large role in protecting Assad. Iran's apparent determination to expand its influence in the region will continue to rankle Saudi Arabia.

      Just last week, on the annual Quds day, or Jerusalem day, Iranian hardliners chanted death slogans against the U.S., Israel and the Saudis.

      But the country George W. Bush described as a cornerstone member of the so-called "axis of evil" has willingly extended an admittedly pragmatic hand across decades of enmity.

      Those chanting "death to America" last Friday were still very supportive of the talks with the enemy, and will largely be supportive of the deal so long as the Iranian leadership is.

      For once, though, it's the thousands upon thousands of average Iranians celebrating today at a chance of re-embracing the world who seem the loudest.

      Iran's hardline, adversarial vision of the world has today acquired a visible chink.

      About the Author

      Nahlah Ayed

      Foreign Correspondent

      Nahlah Ayed is a CBC News correspondent based in London. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's covered major world events and spent nearly a decade working in and covering conflicts across the Middle East. Earlier, Ayed was a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.


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