News of a prisoner swap between the United States and Iran last Saturday was followed up just a few hours later by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) announcement that Iran was now fully in compliance with the inspection regime concerning its nuclear energy program. The IAEA confirmation signalled the easing of most of the international sanctions that have been in place against the country since 2006.
Though restrictions banning U.S. businesses from trading with Iran remain in place, the removal of nuclear-related sanctions represents the fruition of President Obama’s 2008 pledge to restart diplomatic engagement between the two countries. The negotiations leading to Saturday’s announcement included Iran, Germany, and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, but the U.S.-Iran rapprochement has been widely seen as the primary reason for their success.
The deal,hailed by peace activists when it was concluded last year, has been seen as a possible foundation for a new approach to U.S. foreign policy premised on diplomacy rather than armed force and threats. Its potential to speed up cooperation on dealing with ISIS and the threat of reactionary extremists in the region has also been highlighted. Several members of Congress, most of the GOP presidential candidates, as well as hardliners in the Iranian parliament and the government of Israel, have all attacked the move toward normalization.
Progressives in the Iranian exile community, meanwhile,have praised the lifting of sanctions, but are also warning against international complacency in the face of continued repression of domestic democratic forces by the Iranian government.
In a statement issued immediately after the IAEA’s announcement, the Committee for Defense of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) said the end of the sanctions regime would bring opportunities for the “beleaguered Iranian economy and its impoverished workforce.”
CODIR cautioned, however, that there is still much work to be done to advance and protect human and democratic rights inside Iran. It urged the international community not to retreat from such challenges. Jamshid Ahmadi, the assistant general secretary of the group, described the situation that still prevails in the country:
“The detention of hundreds of trade unionists and political activists remains a reality of life in Iran today. They are often detained without charge or for alleged ‘crimes’ which cannot be justified on any basis according to the laws of natural justice. Trade union rights are a basic human right and international pressure upon the Iranian government is vital if we are to achieve the release of those unjustly imprisoned.”
If the Iranian government is willing to negotiate the release foreign citizens held prisoner, CODIR says that it should do the same for domestic political prisoners including trade unionists, women’s rights campaigners, and leaders of the “Green Movement.” The Green Movement brought thousands together in protest against the alleged electoral fraud that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office in 2009.
CODIR also raised concerns that the new economic opportunities opened by the easing of international tensions will not be widely shared among the Iranian people. It cited widespread corruption in the system and noted that the new funds gained from selling oil and gas on the international market will likely accrue mostly to the Iranian elite.
“The theocratic regime will exploit the agreements made with the U.S. and EU to shore up its crisis-ridden policies internally,” Ahmadi further stated. “Leaders of the regime will try to use the agreement as a justification for their policies…which have not only isolated the country internationally but have also resulted in a system of economic sanctions that have absolutely devastated the economy.”
In its own statement, the left-wing Tudeh Party of Iran also brought attention to the government’s economic failings as one reason for its willingness to negotiate with international powers. “The regime’s factions collectively supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [i.e. the deal] because the more than eight years of damaging policies of Ahmadinejad…and the devastating sanctions of imperialist states created immense problems for our country.” The party said that inflation, bankruptcy of many manufacturing firms, high unemployment, and skyrocketing poverty all raised the danger of social implosion and forced the regime to the bargaining table.
Back in the U.S., defending the nuclear agreement and demanding that it be expanded is now the task of the peace and international solidarity movements. The forces opposed to international cooperation in both of the major parties, as well as the military-industrial complex will be actively moving to sabotage the progress made so far. For them, power and profits are at stake. The success achieved so far in the U.S.-Iran negotiations provides powerful evidence, however, that diplomacy can work.
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