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What We Can Learn From Obama’s Cultural Diplomacy

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From proposed religious litmus tests for Muslim immigrants to unrelenting efforts to kill the Iran deal and thwart trade and academic exchange, this election has left many in the Iranian-American community feeling alienated. Rhetoric has only intensified fear of Muslims and immigrants and policymaking has only made escape from the mire of identity politics more inconceivable.

But as much as I’ve felt targeted by political rhetoric these past few months, negative political agendas haven’t always borne this targeting. I think back to President Obama’s annual Iftar dinner to commemorate Eid al-Fitr. He has hosted this dinner every year since he took office eight years ago. This year, in his message to Muslim-Americans at the reception, he expanded upon the contributions of Muslim-Americans throughout the U.S. history, from social justice activism to sports to service in law enforcement and the armed forces.

President Obama has prioritized not only religious outreach, but also cultural, particularly to Iranian Americans. Eight years ago, he expanded the White House tradition of addressing the Iranian-American community on the Persian New Year, otherwise known as Eid Norooz. Former President George H.W. Bush was the first U.S. President to commemorate Norooz. In 1992, he released a short written message, greeting and honoring “Iranian immigrants.”

Bill Clinton would carry on the practice, delivering a videotaped message in 1998, in which he said that he “regrets the estrangement of our two nations.”

In 2002, George W. Bush released a statement thanking millions of Iranian-Americans for “condemning the terrorist acts, participating in rescue efforts at Ground Zero, and offering help and support to the victims, who included individuals of Persian heritage.” In 2008, we even got a glimpse of the State Dining Room, which featured a beautiful Norooz spread, or Haft Sin. Bush also conducted an interview with Voice of America Persian, in which he sent a message to the Iranian regime on nuclear energy research and foreign policy.

Ever since taking office in 2008, President Obama has delivered a heartfelt message on Norooz each year. In 2015, he hosted a Norooz reception for the first time in the White House amidst the nuclear talks, aided by the First Lady. In her remarks, Michelle Obama addressed influential leaders in the Iranian-American community – business owners, artists, academics, and public officials.

Obama’s messages have served as a testament to long-standing traditions in the Iranian culture. He has celebrated the cultural, literary, and achievements of Iranian-Americans – both as a historical civilization and as part of the larger U.S. community today. He has wished Iranians a Happy New Year in Farsi and even quoted renowned Persian poets Hafiz, Saadi, and Behbehani.

As I look back on Obama’s final Nowruz message and traditional feast in the White House, an auspicious sign of inclusivity and unity in the face of divisive rhetoric, I realize that truly “oo ba ma’st,” a play on words which translates to, “He is with us.”

And he always has been with us, with our Iranian-American community and culture, throughout and after negotiations with Iran. He has set an important standard for engagement between the U.S. and Iran, culturally and politically, a standard I hope our next President will follow.

This level of positive, notably apolitical, outreach to Iranian-Americans – and Muslim-Americans as a whole – is unprecedented. As we get ready to elect the next President, amidst calls to ban Muslim immigration to propositions of extra sanctions and even military action against Iran, I hope the President will remember that Iran is more than just a political challenge, but a country with a great history that spawns millennia, rich culture, literature and art and an entire people. And by heeding and celebrating our shared humanity, hopefully we can overcome that political challenge.

  • 12 August 2016
  • Posted By Roksana Borzouei
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy

Cultural and academic exchanges needed to sustain improvement in relations

WASHINGTON — Before the breakdown of relations between the United States and Iran in 1979, the two countries and their peoples enjoyed more than a century of extensive diplomacy, where art, athletics, and academia were major areas of engagement and collaboration. After over three decades of estrangement, the nuclear deal should be a glimmer of hope that revitalizing those relations is once again possible.

As President Obama noted in his first Norooz message following the deal, “even as our two governments continue to have serious disagreements, the fact that we are now talking to each other on a regular basis, for the first time in decades, gives us an opportunity–a window–to resolve other issues. As we do, I firmly believe that we can continue to expand the connections between the American and Iranian people.” The 2016 Democratic platform even emphasizes, “Democrats recognize that the Iranian people seek a brighter future for their country and greater engagement with the international community. We will embrace opportunities for cultural, academic and other exchanges with the Iranian people.”

In the 1970s, Iranians made up the largest population of foreign students in the U.S. The remnants of this past, and a reformist shift in Iran, allowed for limited cultural and academic exchanges in the 1990s and 2000s. Under the Obama administration, Iranian student enrollment in the U.S. rose and a handful of sanctions exemptions were issued to facilitate certain exchanges between Americans and Iranians.

  • 10 August 2016
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Sanctions, Uncategorized

Iran’s weak economic growth undermines supporters of engagement

iran money

President Rouhani won the presidency of his country under a campaign which promised to improve Iran’s economy and increase the standard of living of its people. This promise was grounded in another promise, to negotiate a deal with the United States which would end a decade’s worth of economic sanctions; as a result the fate of the Rouhani administration is intertwined with Iran’s economy, one of the primary determinants of whether he will be reelected. With elections scheduled for May 2017, the future of Iran’s domestic politics, and in turn the possibility of improved relations with the U.S. rests on whether Iran will experience tangible economic growth within the next eight months.

The absence of foreign investment has become a focal point for domestic opponents of the Rouhani administration, such as anti-deal spokesperson for the hardline-Committee to Protect Iran’s Interest Alireza Mataji who has recently remarked that “The deal was clinched without Iran receiving any advantage, or even without the other party making any commitment to lift the sanctions,” in reference to the lack of foreign investment in Iran’s economy. A recent example of sanctions relief shortcoming was Secretary Kerry’s announcement in April that Iran has only acquired less than $3 billion of its estimated $55 billion in offshore assets unfrozen by the agreement. And though Iran has obtained more since April, severe obstacles still exist as indicated by President Rouhani’s recent comment that “Iran still cannot access its foreign assets, although it is able to export more oil and access the international banking system.”

  • 8 August 2016
  • Posted By Karina Bakhshi-Azar
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Iran deal, Nuclear deal, Nuclear deal

Frustration Grows in Iran Around Sanctions Relief Complications

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani during Interview with Swiss TV stationa  at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos- Switzerland 23/01/2014. /AY-COLLECTION_1120.02/Credit:AY-COLLECTION/SIPA/1401301123

This week Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani addressed the Iranian public on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Both Khamenei and Rouhani acknowledged frustration with the pace of economic relief following the lifting of sanctions, while blaming the U.S. for failing to fulfill its commitments.  As has been the case in the past, Khamenei struck a more strident tone while Rouhani emphasized that the economy was growing in spite of complications.

Khamenei addressed thousands of Iranians from different provinces on August 1 2016, to discuss his thoughts on the current state of the JCPOA. He questioned the economic benefits of the deal stating: “Weren’t the oppressive sanctions lifted so that the people would feel a change in their lives? Has there been a tangible effect on the people’s lives in the past six months [since the nuclear agreement’s implementation]?”

Khamenei’s remarks appear to be at least somewhat reflective of many in Iran, whose support for the accord has slipped since implementation. According to a study done by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, while the nuclear deal is still supported by a majority, the number has diminished in the past year, with the proportion who strongly approve of the agreement dropping by half.

  • 4 August 2016
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Iran deal, Nuclear deal, Persian Gulf

Time is Ripe For An Incidents at Sea Agreement

U.S. Navy handout photo of a riverine command boat from Riverine Detachment 23 operates during a maritime air support operations center exercise in the Arabia Gulf

Washington, D.C.-The Strait of Hormuz, located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, is one of the most sensitive regions in the world due to its geopolitical relevance. A variety of factors including the narrowness of the Strait of Hurmuz, the large amount of seaborne oil passing through the strait, and the constant presence of U.S. and Iranian forces have rendered the region uniquely prone to fatal encounters. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen warned as far back as 2011 “We are not talking to Iran, so we don’t understand each other. If something happens, it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be miscalculation.” We weren’t talking to Iran when Mullen issued his warning, but we are now. Yet, the absence of formal diplomatic channels between the two nations remains the most dangerous element in the equation to this day. Surprisingly, it may also be the simplest to resolve if the countries capitalize on recent diplomacy to pursue an Incidents at Sea Agreement.

Perhaps the most significant additional benefit of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States is the reestablished channel of communication between the two nations. The benefit of this channel was clear when Kerry and Zarif intervened to ensure the quick release of U.S. Navy sailors that were captured after crossing into Iranian waters in January.

Kerry and Zarif were able to return the sailors to a U.S. Navy base within 15 hours of being detained. This stands in contrast to a similar incident involving British sailors from 2007, in which the sailors were brought to the mainland and detained for 13 tense days, thus demonstrating the benefits of stronger ties. Commenting on the benefits of the channel, Kerry has noted that “[only] two years ago we wouldn’t have known who to call, enough time would have gone by, we would have called the Swiss, and [then] there would have been sufficient enmity for another situation”.

  • 22 July 2016
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Iran deal, Nuclear deal, Nuclear deal

Examining the Deal’s Impact on Regional Proliferation

IAEAThe Obama administration chose to negotiate with Iran with two overarching goals: to close off Iran’s path to acquiring a nuclear weapon, and – by extension – to ensure that Iranian actions do not trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The IAEA’s latest report has found that Iran continues to abide by all its commitments under the JCPOA, a clear vindication that the first goal is being accomplished. The second goal, preventing a nuclear race to the bottom in the Middle East, was simultaneously accomplished by agreeing on a level of continued enrichment that did not trigger a nuclear race.

However, many conservative foreign policy analysts have urged the administration to push for a complete suspension of Iran’s nuclear program, having deemed the region, and in particular Saudi Arabia, unable to tolerate any level of Iranian enrichment. The analysts predicted that a nuclear-armed or nuclear-threshold Iran would trigger Saudi Arabia into pursuing a nuclear weapon, which would than cascade throughout the Middle East.

The Saudis latched on to these narratives, explicitly stating that they would not hesitate to pursue a nuclear weapon should Iran develop one.

These arguments resurfaced again after the JCPOA was signed, with some arguing as early as 2015 that the deal was a diplomatic failure as it did not halt Iran’s uranium enrichment. These critics proclaimed that regional actors – such as the UAE, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia – will no longer feel bound by their commitments to non-proliferation in light of the JCPOA as the constraints under the deal did not go far enough.

A year after the signing of the nuclear agreement is the perfect time to return to these predictions and determine how accurate they were. A cursory glance at the region demonstrates that while regional conflicts persist, there are no new nuclear states, and no indications that key regional players are moving towards pursuing a program capable of developing a nuclear weapon.

A May 2016 report from the Brookings Institution authored by former Obama administration officials Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew evaluates the prospect of proliferation following the JCPOA. The report assesses the likelihood of regional proliferation based on three elements: domestic human capital, technology/wealth, and desire to pursue nuclear weapons, specifically focusing on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Turkey. The ultimate assessment finds that because none possess all three elements required for pursuing a weapons program, the JCPOA “has not triggered a nuclear race”.

Saudi Arabia, crowned by the report as the most likely candidate to pursue a weapons program, fails on the first and third elements. The lack of domestic human capital and strong desire for pursuing a nuclear weapon, remain the primary obstacles between the Kingdom and a nuclear weapon. According to the report, “While they clearly have the necessary financial resources the Saudis lack the human and physical infrastructure and have had to postpone their ambitious nuclear power plans for eight years while they train the required personnel.” The report went on to find that the delay resulted from Saudi authorities recognizing “that they did not have the workforce, supply chain, or regulatory infrastructure to support such an ambitious effort”. The slow process of developing a domestic nuclear force has led the Saudis to pursue foreign assistance, though as the report notes the Saudis are years away from even constructing their first power reactor.

While the report does not rule out the possibility that Saudi Arabia may eventually acquire a full-fledged nuclear program, it found that the UAE does not seem to harbor any such aspirations. However, as the report notes, the UAE has signed agreements with the United States to forego enrichment and reprocessing and currently has four nuclear reactors, which will go online in 2017. The report notes, however, that because of foreign contractors, “the UAE will not be independently capable of operating its nuclear facilities for quite some time.”

Egypt, “the only [nation examined by the report] that previously made efforts to acquire nuclear weapons”, did not meet all three requirements either. Ultimately, Egypt today possesses the human capital and to some extent desire, but lacks the technology, according to Einhorn and Nephew. As the report states, “the Egyptian nuclear budget remains small, something that is unlikely to be remedied during ongoing domestic unrest.” Furthermore, the report found that Egyptian nuclear aspirations are not clearly linked to Iran, indicating that distance and lack of conflict would likely negate a security dilemma triggered by a potential Iranian nuclear weapons capability.

Similarly, in the report’s determination Turkey does not perceive Iran or its program as a military threat despite regional disagreements. The report noted that Turkey will not pursue nuclear weapons because “[They] believe they can count on NATO in a crisis, and would be reluctant to put their NATO ties in jeopardy by pursuing nuclear weapons.” Hence, Turkey could likely depend on NATO protections and the U.S. nuclear umbrella from nuclear threats within and outside the region. Moreover, a recent poll available in the report has found that a majority of Turks believe the nuclear deal is a positive as opposed to negative development for the region.
The report’s thesis, that Iran’s remaining nuclear program has not triggered a nuclear race, is well argued. However, the report could have gone even further. An argument can be made that the deal can support non-proliferation in the Middle East beyond the particulars of Iran’s program. At a recent event on nuclear policy for the next administration hosted by the Society for Foreign Affairs, Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association made the recommendation that “One of the areas the United States can work on is to introduce the more innovative aspects of the JCPOA, such as 24-hour supervision of facilities into the standard protocols of the NPT as nations move towards nuclear power resources.” This is particularly important for the Middle East as nations such as Turkey, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia consider expanding their nuclear programs. Additionally, by removing one of the region’s foremost security threats, the JCPOA could usher in renewed focus on further non-proliferation agreements – including the pursuit of a regional Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone and the pursuit of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty throughout the region.

While the JCPOA has not triggered a nuclear race, the accord’s collapse could potentially shift the current paradigm, forcing nations throughout the region to reassess their level of security and hence their desire to possess a nuclear weapon. It is therefore in our interest to maintain the status quo so as to ensure that the current organization of power, one which has not triggered a proliferation race, is not disrupted.

  • 28 June 2016
  • Posted By Karina Bakhshiazar
  • 1 Comments
  • Nuclear deal, Sanctions

Financial Task Force Acknowledges Iran’s Progress, Leaving Deal Opponents at Odds

On June 24, 2016, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) acknowledged Iran’s high-level political commitment to an Action Plan and their active decision to seek technical assistance in its implementation. As a result, FATF—whose purpose is the development and promotion of policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing—suspended its calls for counter-measures on Iran for a 12 month period in order to monitor Iran’s progress in implementing the Action Plan. The move by FATF acknowledges the positive steps taken by Iran to resolve concerns regarding its banking sector–and moves Iran off the FATF “black list” and onto its “grey list.” The decision, while widely anticipated, has left Iran hawks divided in their response.

Iran’s inclusion on FATF’s blacklist had been utilized by JCPOA opponents to argue against the nuclear accord and Obama administration attempts to ensure the provision of sanctions relief. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) cited FATF’s designation of Iran and its calls for counter-measures as the primary reason for blocking administration efforts to reinstate a version of the U-turn license (under which the U.S. would permit certain dollar clearing on behalf of Iran through the U.S. financial system). In April, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce likewise claimed that FATF’s concern with Iran is “why I’m working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on legislation to put in place strict statutory prohibitions to keep Iran from receiving the benefits of accessing the U.S. financial system.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jeb Hensarling also cited FATF’s call for countermeasures on Iran as the reason to oppose further diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic.

When U.S. officials hinted that FATF might loosen restrictions on Iran in recognition of Iran’s progress in reforming its banking laws, opponents of the nuclear accord intensified efforts to maintain the status quo. Chairman Royce penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, urging him to ensure that Iran remained on FATF’s list of countries that are “high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions” and to keep in place FATF’s call for counter-measures against Iran. Outside groups like United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) acted similarly, urging FATF to reinstate and strengthen its call for member-states and other jurisdictions to impose countermeasures against Iran.

Yet when FATF suspended its call for countermeasures, Chairman Royce, UANI, and other deal opponents spun the decision as a victory and vindication of their efforts. Careful observers will note the irony; Royce, UANI, and others had expressly called for FATF to keep in place its call for countermeasures against Iran and not to recognize the progress made by Iran in reforming its banking laws.

It is no surprise that those who utilized FATF’s stance on Iran as a means to dissuade trade and commercial engagement with Tehran are trying to square a circle and claim victory for their side. For them, bad news on Iran is good news, even when such bad news has to be invented. For its part, AIPAC was not in sync with UANI and Royce’s frame–they condemned the FATF statement as “dangerous.” However, FATF’s position is clear: Iran has made progress in reforming its banking laws; Iran has made a “high-level political commitment” to an Action Plan that commits Iran to further reform; and Iran is now deserving of a suspension of the call for countermeasures to be imposed. Being the expert global anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism organization, FATF’s judgment is to be trusted in all matters – not just when its judgment happens to run in parallel with an anti-Iran platform.

  • 16 October 2015
  • Posted By Sahar Kian
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran, Nuclear deal, Sanctions

Incentive and Investment in Iran

Having failed to block the Iran nuclear deal through Congressional review or other means, some critics of the agreement are now working to undermine its implementation. One of “backdoor” methods of countering the deal was recently laid out by panelists at a conference convened by the Washington Institute of Near East Peace. Despite the creativity in masking the true intentions of this approach, this effort is clearly yet another a disingenuous attempt to kill the deal.

Panelists at the conference discussed how to hinder sanctions relief required under the agreement by intimidating potential investors from doing business in Iran. They proposed a two-part plan designed to discourage foreign investment. First, they said investors must be convinced that doing legitimate business with Iran would be a liability from a public relations standpoint. In other words, they plan on diminishing foreign investment by making it a moral taboo to trade with Iran, and by threatening to damage the reputations of companies who consider investment. Second, they recommended that the non-nuclear sanctions that will remain in place under the deal should be expanded—which would then limit or negate the practical benefits of easing of nuclear-related sanctions.

This new effort is disconcerting and carries real risks. The nuclear deal is a good deal, and its terms – including resuming economic relations – must not be breached. The international community recognizes that the deal is based on reciprocation: if we want Iran to honor the deal, then we must also honor its terms as they were intended. If we reinterpret the terms of a deal that addresses the international community’s security concerns, we invite Iran to do the same and turn a good deal into a bad one. Moreover, it could cost us our partners’ cooperation going forward. Europe especially suffered economically as a result of the sanctions regime and is looking forward to recovering by setting the scene for serious investment in Iran. There will be little appetite for further cooperation to address other issues with Iran if the U.S. is viewed as renegotiating the agreed terms for sanctions relief and punishing our European allies in the process.

  • 16 October 2015
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, Updates, US-Iran War

The Iran Deal Moves to a New Phase

Salehi

Photo via Washington Post.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral accord to roll back and ensure intrusive inspections over Iran’s nuclear program, has cleared significant hurdles this week that will enable the parties to begin to implement their obligations beginning on October 18, or “Adoption Day.” With Iranian hardliners and Congressional opponents’ failure to kill the deal over the past three months, the agreement’s new phase will enable the parties to begin to see the benefits of the accord.

On Tuesday, the Iranian parliament passed a bill giving the government permission to implement the agreement by a vote of 161-59. Despite the strong vote, the deal was not without controversy. As a sign of the fierce domestic opposition faced by the deal’s negotiators, one parliamentarian allegedly threatened to kill Iran’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, and bury him underneath the Arak reactor. Despite the fierce protestations of hardliners, the bill was passed and then upheld by Iran’s Guardian Council on Wednesday, effectively ending Iran’s internal review of the agreement.

On Thursday, the IAEA also announced the completion of a road map on a long-standing investigation into Iran’s prior, possible military dimensions to its nuclear activities. Over the past three months, the road map obligated Iran to provide information on a range of questions on its nuclear activities, largely prior to 2003, and to provide the IAEA with environmental sampling at a building on the Parchin military complex that was suspected of housing nuclear-related activities. The IAEA will issue a report summarizing its findings by December 2015. This progress, only possible following the striking of the JCPOA, should give the IAEA and international community greater insight into the extent of Iran’s past nuclear pursuits.

As a result, the JCPOA will reach “Adoption Day” by October 18, marking the point where the parties officially begin to undertake their obligations. Iran’s concessions are heavily front-loaded. In the months ahead, we should see Iran remove approximately 13,000 installed centrifuges, reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 97%, limit the enrichment of uranium to one heavily-monitored facility, destroy the core of the Arak reactor, and expand inspector access across its nuclear program, among other steps. Had opponents succeeded in killing the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program would be moving forward in the months ahead, not taking significant steps backward.

Iran has indicated that they hope to complete these steps by December 2015. U.S. assessments are more conservative, and it is possible that the work will stretch into the spring of 2016. However, there is incentive for Iran to hurry. While the U.S. and Europe are obligated to issue sanctions waivers on Adoption Day, those will only go into effect on “Implementation Day” – after Iran has completed its aforementioned nuclear obligations. Thus, sanctions will remain in place and Iran will not begin to see the economic benefit of the JCPOA for months. With parliamentary elections and a selection for Iran’s Assembly of Experts coming in February 2016, Rouhani will want to point to evidence of sanctions relief to energize his base and ensure that moderates make significant gains in both critical bodies. Such a shift would almost certainly increase the President’s political capital, and could make it easier for him to take on hardliners intent on maintaining Iran’s harsh security environment.

However, while the JCPOA enters this new phase, we have already seen evidence of hardliners digging in. The test-firing of a ballistic missile earlier this week, Supreme Leader Khamenei’s warning against further negotiations and U.S. influence, and the continuation of escalated human rights abuses overseen by the Iranian judiciary all signal trepidation with shifting events while foreshadowing a continued struggle over Iran’s direction in the wake of the deal. This was far from unexpected, as many observers predicted an initial hardening as factions seek to balance against the success and popularity of Rouhani and his team. Whether the U.S. signals moderation or doubles down on hostility in this new phase could tilt the scales of these coming domestic battles, and also expand or limit any potential diplomatic dividend that follows the nuclear agreement’s implementation.

  • 17 September 2015
  • Posted By Alex Kneib
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Capitalize on the Iran Deal, Double Down on Diplomacy

At a recent House hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, the 30th since the accord was struck, Admiral William Fallon offered an important perspective that has been largely missing from much of the recent debate.

“The suspension of sanctions will increase economic activity and personal travel in the region, boosting interaction with the Iranian population, resulting in pressure to normalize state to state relationships,” said Fallon, who previously served as Commander of U.S. Central Command. “The potential for confidence building, and possibly even trust, between Iran and the international community as implementation proceeds, could initiate a more pragmatic political dynamic inside Iran to address the unrest and frustrations of the population, the majority under age 30.”

Admiral Fallon’s testimony stood apart not only due to its support of the deal—Congress has largely only invited opponents of the agreement to testify—but also because his optimism about the opportunities afforded by the JCPOA to engage Iran beyond the nuclear issue.

At a time when even some supporters of the agreement have couched their endorsement behind new calls for countering Iran militarily or with more sanctions, Fallon’s comments are a welcome movement towards doubling down on diplomacy. Although the JCPOA was a result of diplomacy that stemmed from necessity on both negotiating sides, it served and will hopefully continue to serve as a reminder to each side that cooperation is possible. As noted in one of Trita Parsi’s recent op-ed pieces, the conditions for strong cooperation are present. “Iranian society is overwhelmingly moderate, educated and forward-looking; despite the existence of a small but highly vocal element of religious radicals.” Furthermore, the coming reintegration of Iran into the global economy will increase the incentives for economic cooperation between Iran and the U.S. although for now the U.S. maintains a near total embargo.

To achieve and sustain cooperation, U.S. and Iran must seek a greater sense of mutual understanding, while setting reasonable aspirations for cooperation. For example, as noted by Professor Shireen T. Hunter, “the Middle East crisis cannot be resolved by a single country.” Upon further cooperation with Iran, the U.S. must understand that cooperation contributes to stability in the region but does not outright solve it. Moreover, to maintain cooperation, the U.S. must seek to understand Iran’s regional and geopolitical interests and concerns. As each country traded concessions in the JCPOA, they should mimic such action to pursue mutually beneficial solutions to the significant challenges that remain between the two countries, as well as within the broader region.

Unfortunately, most of the discussion of what comes after the nuclear has focused on how to contain and sanction Iran. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) even has legislation in the works to combat the success of the JCPOA.  The outline for his legislation, contained in a Washington Post op-ed, puts forth veiled threats and measures designed to kill the deal and return to a posture of containment towards Iran. In regards to veiled threats, he and others argue for further arming of Israel and putting a military option on the table. One of the many ineffective policies towards Iran during the George W. Bush administration was to keep all military options on the table and use military threats to garner leverage. Returning to this policy would put the U.S. back on a path of escalation towards conflict rather than a path towards diplomatic solutions. Rather than going back to the old policy tool kit, which hasn’t yielded U.S. foreign policy objectives, we should use what has worked: diplomatic engagement. In turn, building upon the JCPOA offers a route to address further bilateral issues such as Iran’s conventional weapons program, ballistic missile program, and terrorism support.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader has alluded to an openness for further engagement between Iran and the U.S. outside of the nuclear issue. “If the counterpart [the United States] stops its bad behavior, one could expand this experience to other issues,” he said of the diplomatic process, following the announcement of the framework nuclear agreement in April. However, the potential for further progress on this front seems to have deteriorated amidst the rhetorical back and forth that officials in Iran and the U.S. have engaged in as they have sought to sell the deal to their domestic audiences. Khamenei has since changed his public stance and announced that Iran will not hold further talks with the US outside of the nuclear issue. This is problematic if we want to see the deal as a gateway to a brighter future. Although implementation of the JCPOA will be a difficult process due to the complexity of the 159-page agreement and of the political environment, the sides should utilize the milestone of the JCPOA to capitalize on the positive momentum for Iran-US engagement and avoid a return to provocation.