Originally published in The Chautauquan Daily
The Iran nuclear deal has stirred much debate and controversy in the United States over the last two months. Seyed Hossein Mousavian and Emad Kiyaei, two Iranians, teamed up to shed light on the nuclear deal and Iran’s perspective on the global landscape.
Mousavian, a former diplomat and Iranian nuclear negotiator, and Kiyaei, executive director of the American-Iranian Council, were the final morning lecturers of Week Eight, “The Middle East Now and Next.” Mousavian is a pro-U.S. Iranian and the co-author of Iran and the United States, An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace, which was published last year and chronicles U.S.-Iran relations from 1856 to the present day.
The two men took the Amphitheater stage sans Mousavian’s son, Mohammed, who was scheduled to appear. Mohammed was held up by a delayed flight from Philadelphia, where he is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.
Kiyaei questioned Mousavian on the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, its implications, significance and whether it was a good or bad deal.
According to Mousavian, the international consensus is that the U.S. and its allies, the P5+1 consisting of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia, achieved their objective: to prevent every path that Iran could take to a nuclear bomb. Of that, there is no dispute, he said.
The concern, that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful, is less about the current situation and more about the future. In that regard, Mousavian called the agreement “the most comprehensive in the history of nuclear proliferation.”
A member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is the only country to have limits on its uranium enrichment program, Mousavian said. Normally 90 percent enrichment is allowed; for Iran, it is 5 percent. Weapons-grade uranium is active at 100 percent enrichment.
The treaty opens Iran up to the most intrusive inspections regime in the history of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Kiyaei said. What would be difficult under the current procedures would be impossible under the agreement, he said.
“Through this deal [making a nuclear weapon] will be impossible for Iranians to do,” Kiyaei said. “And let us not forget, the Iranians, on day one, said that a nuclear weapon for Iranian national security doesn’t make sense. The Iranians have thorough justifications of religious grounds by Ayatollah Khamenei, who actually issued a fatwa that says ‘any use or production of WMDs, nuclear or chemical, is immoral and, based on the religious texts of the Quran, prohibited.’ ”
The deal’s critics, which have primarily been representatives in the U.S. Congress, Israel’s government and Saudi Arabia, said an alternative, “better” deal was possible with more “sanctions and concessions.”
There were three scenarios for the future of the Iran nuclear program, Mousavian said. Those are diplomacy, war and further sanction pressure. After two U.S.-Middle East wars in the last 15 years that resulted in “zero achievement” and cost both factions trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, he said he understood why President Barack Obama wanted to avoid another military conflict.
Since 2006, the U.S. government has overseen and coordinated “the largest multilateral sanctions campaign in history,” he said. The effect of this was the opposite of what was intended. During the eight years of sanctions enforcement, Iran, which had no reason not to, increased its nuclear program.
In response to sanctions, Mousavian said Iran went from a few hundred centrifuges to 2,200, from 5 percent enrichment to 20 percent, and from a few hundred kilograms of enriched uranium stockpiled to 10,000.
“They wanted to say, ‘We are not going to capitulate our rights under the NPT, of which we are a member, because of sanctions,’ ” he said. “ ‘You increase the sanctions. We will increase the capacity of the enrichment.’ ”
He said the U.S. “opened its eyes” in 2013 and acknowledged sanctions were “counterproductive.” He also noted that, of all the Middle East crises that dominate the region, this was the only one that has been successfully resolved through diplomacy.
Kiyaei wondered if the agreement could become a model for nuclear non-proliferation, and Mousavian said he thought so.
Mousavian added that it wasn’t just his opinion, but also the one of U.S. nuclear scientists.
“The deal is good because the U.S. and the world powers have received all assurances that, in the future, the Iranian nuclear program will neither be diverted to enrichment facilities nor to hard water facilities,” Mousavian said. “And I would say that this agreement is about 170 pages, and the reason it took two years of negotiations was because it was not just about Iran.”
Iran’s main issue with global nuclear terms was the double standard held by nations such as the U.S., Russia and Israel, he said. For example, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to have nuclear weapons. He noted Iran undergoes more strident sanctions than North Korea, which itself withdrew from the NPT.
“It always bothers me that the Americans and the Russians, just these two countries, have amassed 98 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads,” Kiyaei said. “When I look at the situation, it makes me question their commitments to the NPT.”
The fact that India, Pakistan and Israel are supported in their nuclear endeavors is also a factor in Iran’s concerns about the hypocrisy of supposed “non-proliferation.”
“If you’re really supporting a world free of nuclear of weapons, why do these nuclear weapons remain?” Mousavian said. “The first objective of NPT is dismantling nuclear bombs by world powers and for about 50 years, technology has improved and sophisticated nuclear bombs.”
The nuclear talks were the first serious, diplomatic discussions between the U.S. and Iran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. As detailed in his book, Mousavian told Kiyaei, for the first 100 years of their relationship, the U.S. and Iran were positive toward each other. In fact, two Americans, Howard Baskerville and Samuel Martin Jordan, were responsible for Iran’s independence and its education system, respectively.
In 1953, a CIA-backed coup d’état overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and replaced him with monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. He ruled until the revolution in 1979.
Kiyaei asked Mousavian if he thought the agreement would lead to a new era or a return to former animosity.
With the nuclear agreement as evidence, Mousavian hopes and believes it can be a building block for the U.S. and Iran to overcome differences and cooperate on common interests.
As for the future of the Middle East, Kiyaei and Mousavian agree the real enemy, violent ideologies, cannot be defeated with a gun. While Iran leads the ground fight against the Islamic State group, they said the U.S. could combat that root cause by ceasing to support corrupt dictatorships in the region as they did and do in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, respectively.
Instead, they said the money funneled to those governments could be used to lower unemployment among youths and fuel development of the middle class. This would aid in creating the environment where reform and change can occur on a societal and governmental level, they said.
“It’s known to the Iranian public that Hossein Mousavian is pro-American-Iranian relations,” Mousavian said. “When I came to the U.S. in 2009, I did not stop my work because, from the bottom of my heart, I believe in peace between Iran and the U.S.