Small “d” democracy
By Mark Lurinsky
The New York Times has reported that the Biden administration is quietly pursuing fresh talks with the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran toward what has been called an informal “political cease-fire”.
A potential pact under discussion through the auspices of third parties, as confirmed to the Times by an Iranian official, a U.S. official and three senior Israelis, would likely include:
- Iran freezing it’s enrichment of uranium at its current level
- The Islamic Republic expanding its cooperation with the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.)
- Iran refraining from selling ballistic missiles to Russia
- A halt to lethal attacks on U.S. contractors in Syria and Iraq by irregular forces aligned with the Iranian regime
In return, the U.S. would:
- Refrain from further sanctions against the Iranian economy and from seizing Iranian oil cargos on foreign tankers
- Not seek new punitive resolutions against Iran at the U.N. or with the I.A.E.A. over that country’s nuclear activities
The talks may also secure the freedom of three Iranian Americans held by Tehran. The U.S. side would likely be expected to unfreeze an unspecified amount of impounded Iranian government funds on the condition that third parties would insure their use only for humanitarian purposes benefiting the Iranian people and not the regime.
To be clear, it may not happen. Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association has expressed concern about the “real risk of spoilers” to the negotiations, like a sabotage attack or targeted assassination in Iran such as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, ordered when he last held office.
The possible “cease-fire” with Iran is also far from an overarching solution to the problem of the Iranian nuclear program and related security matters, but an interim measure to ease tensions. It is meant to “put a lid on any activity that basically crosses a red line or puts either party in a position to retaliate in a way that destabilizes the status quo,” according to Ali Vaez, the Iran director of the International Crisis Group.
What is dramatically new about this development is just how far removed it is from the situation we faced as recently as three years ago, when Donald Trump ordered the assassination of the Iranian leader General Qasem Soleimani, which brought us to the threshold of a full-scale shooting war in the Middle East. It was Trump’s renunciation and violation of the terms of the Obama-era nuclear agreement that has led directly to the vast expansion of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program with its potential troubling military applications.
With the number of countries now under the control of authoritarian, “illiberal” and aggressive governments today, there is no doubt that we live in a dangerous world. To his credit, Joe Biden has made it known that he will seek out diplomatic solutions wherever possible, even while keeping our country and our alliances strong against naked aggressions like the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Consider for a moment the Biden Administration’s other recent steps to forge diplomatic progress. In the face of Republican attacks and threats, the president dispatched Secretary of State Blinken to China to explore what paths may exist to remove the dangers of military escalation with the world’s second largest economic and military power. The Administration will now also return our country to full membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (U.N.E.S.C.O.) after years of unproductive non-participation.
In international affairs as in other things, the green shoots of real progress can happen just when things look quite bleak. In October 1963, at the height of the Cold War and less than one year after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of atomic annihilation, President John F. Kennedy signed the partial nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, the first of many successive steps toward arms control and easing of tensions that continued for more than three decades.
The sensible, important, and experience-based diplomacy that has guided U.S. foreign policy under Biden may be short-lived, depending on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. If, instead of Joe Biden, Donald Trump or one of the Trump-like candidates now presenting themselves should capture the White House, all bets are off. Prepare to vote and organize like your life depends on it. It may.
Mark Lurinsky has been an activist on matters of public policy since 1968, He is currently a member of BlueWaveNJ’s Electoral Reform Working Group and is co-chair of the Healthcare Committee.