IN A world dominated by bad news, it is surprising how little attention is given to the good news. There was a brief media flurry over the nuclear deal between the United States and Iran; but the item soon disappeared from the agenda as gloom and discord returned.
Yet it is important to linger longer. Four years of secret, and then public, talks have ended what was potentially one of the world’s most serious crises. Iran gets nuclear power, but no nuclear weapons. And, as Tehran’s compliance with the deal was verified, sanctions were lifted, reconnecting a significant economy to play with the world market.
It is a victory for diplomacy in a world where too many politicians want to leapfrog directly into confrontation and conflict rather than take the risk of opening themselves to the vulnerability that negotiation and compromise requires.
There are those who are unhappy with the result. An Iranian bomb is delayed, not prevented, in the eyes of the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. He branded it a “bad mistake of historic proportions”, but omitted to acknowledge that Israel has a similar bomb. Saudi Arabia fears that the end to sanctions will strengthen and embolden Iran to pursue a policy of aggression and terror in the region — no mention there of the support that Saudi citizens give to Islamic State, or Daesh, and the reign of terror it has brought to the region.
Care must be taken. An effective civil war between Sunni and Shia is in place across the crescent from Lebanon, through Syria and Iraq, to Yemen. Iran and the Saudis are taking opposing sides in a proxy war. But that requires greater rapprochement and reconciliation, rather than Saudis’ beheading Shia clerics and Iranians’ allowing mobs to set fire to Saudi embassies.
The Sunni powers are concerned that billions of dollars were wiped off Saudi and other Gulf stock-markets the moment Iran returned to world oil markets. Some deft OPEC dealing will be needed if a price war is not to ensue in which the cost of oil plummets drastically. But the pressures are not unhealthy: they have already forced the Saudis into unprecedented economic reforms.
The fact that Washington has stopped talking about “the axis of evil”, and Tehran has shelved its rhetoric about the US as “the Great Satan” is to be welcomed and applauded, even if the moderate President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, still has to make some argumentative noises to placate the Revolutionary Guard hardliners around him, who feel humiliated by the deal. Washington is keeping banking sanctions on 11 individuals and bodies linked to the Iranian missile programme for similar reasons.
But the rest of the world will benefit. Oil prices will fall as Iran, with the fourth largest reserves in the world, re-enters the world market. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be grown in Iran. The country will benefit from new aeroplanes, trucks, and cars, as well as reintegration with the world banking system.
Most of all, the deal will contribute to improved international security. With the threat of nuclear escalation reduced, the world feels a safer place. Jaw-jaw, as Winston Churchill famously said, is always better than war-war.
Paul Vallely is senior fellow at the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester.