A nuclear deal, then a choice to co-operate on extremism

Originally published in The Financial Times

By Mohammad Javad Zarif  

We have come a long way over the past 21 months of negotiations over my country’s nuclear energy program. A very long way. Never have Iran and its counterparts been this close to a final accord. But success is far from assured. All that is clear about what will happen next is that things will not go back to the way they were.

Serious political decisions still need to be made. Countless technical solutions have been discussed and devised, and in many cases now resolved, but this crisis has at its core always been political. Some say they are trying to shut down this or that pathway to the bomb. The agreement within our reach will do just that through a plethora of measures. But the truth is that there really is only one pathway to the bomb, and that is through a political decision to build a nuclear weapon. Sober strategic calculations, and more importantly our religious obligations, have firmly distanced Iran from this calamity, and these calculations have been put to the test. Even under attack by weapons of mass destruction, by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, Iran did not respond in kind. Such weapons have always been strictly prohibited by the Supreme Leaders of the Islamic Revolution.

To move forward, sincerity — and changed mindsets — must prevail. Getting to “yes” necessitates the courage to take the higher ground, sufficient fortitude to be flexible, the audacity to shatter old habits, and most of all, a vision for a better future.

For years, some have refused to acknowledge that neither military muscle nor economic coercion can push people into giving up their dignity. Unimaginable blood and treasure have been wasted to disprove this unmistakable reality. Yet I feel hopeful. My interlocutors are beginning to abandon the illusions that have fueled the many and costly misadventures in my region over the past decades. There is growing acknowledgment that attempting to coerce a proud civilisation into submission only leads to further conflict, resentment and hostility. This particularly applies in the case of the unjust and illegal sanctions imposed on the Iranian people, ostensibly to put a halt to their aspiration to enjoy peaceful nuclear energy. This sanctions regime — the most indiscriminate imposed on any nation in human history — has been met with unwavering determination. At the outset of this crisis, Iran had less than 200 centrifuges; today, it has 20,000. And so, my counterparts have rightfully opted for the negotiating table. But they still need to make the critical choice between an agreement and

The only agreement that can withstand the test of time is a balanced one. Make no mistake: any attempt to gain at the expense of others is bound to be short lived. Iran is ready to strike a fair and balanced deal and prepared to open new horizons to address the shared challenges of far greater magnitude.

Among these shared threats is the increasingly brutal extremism that is engulfing the heart of the Middle East, and even extending into Europe. Unless it is stopped, it will spread further. The cold-blooded barbarism on display knows no borders. The simultaneous massacres on three different continents a short while ago is proof.

Iran has spared no efforts in this war between humanity and inhumanity, where entire countries are being torn to shreds by roving bands of hooded men with no regard for the sanctity of human life. To deal with this alarming challenge, new approaches are an imperative. International efforts are needed to fight this international battle. With a final nuclear agreement at hand, I hope my counterparts will make the historic choice between co-operation and conflict. Most of all, I hope focus and resources will soon be shifted to where they are needed most; if we do not forcefully confront the menace of violent extremism soon, it will confront us.