With the September 17 deadline approaching for the US Congress to decide whether to approve the Iran nuclear agreement, it is useful to examine six key facts.
In July, after almost two years on nearly continuous negotiations, the EU3+3 and Iran reached an agreement as to how best to deal with Iran’s nuclear program and international concerns that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon. Since that agreement, politicians and pundits, particularly in Israel and the U.S., have bisected and trisected the terms in an effort to make a case either for or against the agreement. In the debate over the merits, facts have been a scarce commodity. As the U.S. Congress approaches the September 17 deadline to either approve or disapprove the agreement, it would be useful to examine the realities surrounding Iran and its nuclear program.
1. Iran is not ruled by a bunch of mad mullahs
Following the 1979 revolution that overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi’s oppressive regime, Iran established an Islamic republic in which Islamic principles play an important role. The constitution vests ultimate power in the Supreme Leader, who is indirectly elected for life through the Assembly of Experts. In practice, the Supreme Leader tends to remain above the “hurley burley” of day-to-day politics. Although he is the ultimate decision maker in national security affairs, he rarely overturns decisions of the Supreme National Security Council. In many ways, the Iranian governmental structure is similar to that of the United States with separation of powers and checks and balances, thus making it difficult to understand the decision-making process.
2. In general, minorities are not persecuted or oppressed
Shia Islam of the “Twelver” variety (the three branches of Shia Islam are Twelver; Zaidi, or “Fiver”; and Ismaili, or “Sevener”) makes up the overwhelming faith of Iranians. Christians, Jews, Sunni Muslims, and Zoroastrians are recognized and are guaranteed representation in Parliament. Adherents to the Baha’i faith, which was actually founded in Iran, are considered heretics and are persecuted. While there remain limits on jobs that can be held, most adherents to the recognized faiths, particularly Jews, are comfortably ensconced in the middle class.
3. The Islamic Republic is probably the most secular Muslim country in the Middle East
Iran’s large, young, western-oriented population tends to push the envelope of governmental restrictions on personal behavior. Despite being officially banned, alcoholic beverages are readily available. Friends have said to me “under the Shah we used to pray at home and go out to drink; now we drink at home and go out to pray.” Current President Hassan Rouhani has taken steps to reduce interference in the daily lives if citizen, instructing the morality police to “lighten up.”
4. Women play an important role in the highly educated, young workforce
One of important reforms of the revolution was to extend education to the rural areas and, by separating the sexes, to encourage fathers to allow their daughters to attend school. While it’s true that a glass ceiling remains, women now make up 60 percent of the college students and 60 percent of the workforce.
5. Iranian policy does not call for the destruction of Israel
Since the 1990s, Iranian policy, with respect to the Israel/Palestine situation, declares that Iran would abide by the will of the Palestinian people and their leaders as reflected in an open referendum. The statement, often repeated by Israeli and Western media, that Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth” is a politically motivated mistranslation of a comment by Ayatollah Khomeini that Israel’s policies would result in the disappearance of the Jewish State from the pages of history. Given that Israel’s policies over the past two decades have resulted in a situation where non-Jews will soon outnumber Jews, Khomeini may have been prescient.
6. If Iran lives up to its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), what the U.S. Congress does is irrelevant
The JCPOA, signed by the EU3+3 and Iran in Vienna on July 14, 2015, envisions a peaceful Iranian nuclear program, stringent restrictions on any path to a nuclear weapon, and removal of nuclear-related sanctions. On July 20 the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed the JCPOA. With the lone exception of Israel, every other nation has expressed support for the JCPOA. As Hooman Majd pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, “The deal isn’t about the United States anymore. If Iran abides by it (even as America rejects it) the rest of the world will too, and the United States will have killed not the deal but its own credibility, the tremendous goodwill it has in Iran, and even its own economic interests. And Iran, the Iranians know, will abide by the treaty, make do in a world without America, and will re-elect, in 2017, the president who brought them the promise of a better life.” This train has left the station.