Last month’s historic nuclear agreement breakthrough, following nearly two years of grueling, frequently contentious negotiations, manifests the efficacy of diplomacy conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect to solve shared challenges among states that were formerly enemies.
This achievement, according to Iranian college students from whom this observer has been learning a lot recently while engaging in far reaching discussions in Iran, and the nuclear pacts momentum, leads logically to the next step, which should include opening the Iranian and American embassies. This so our two countries can talk freely and facilitate the work of the queuing trade delegations from both countries eager to discuss business opportunities and countless other benefits, including but not limited to the fact that opening our embassies will facilitate the quick restoration of banks financing of trade deals, restoration of consular passport and other services to the more than one million Iranians living in the US and travel of American to the Islamic republic. This and much more can be repaired that has been severely damaged by US-led sanctions that targeted Iran’s civilian population for political purposes including regime change. By opening our embassies, economic benefits will quickly flow to both peoples according to the UN World Trade Association and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD.
Despite obvious benefits to US citizens, according to recent polls, Democrats and Republicans appear to be polar opposites in their view of the agreement and opening our embassies. Nearly 7 in 10 Democrats favor it while an identical share of Republicans rejects it. Among independents, 6 in 10 favor it.
In contrast, accordingly to the results of an admittedly unscientific poll of students at Tehran University and random shoppers and shopkeepers in an ancient Tehran bazaar, as well as outside the former US Embassy, approximately 90 % of Iranians support the agreement and opening of our embassies. And Iranians seem to be quite optimistic, indeed enthusiastic about prospects for future US-Iran bi-lateral relations. No doubt one reason is the harsh US-led economic sanctions that have targeted the civilian population for political purposes, i.e. regime change. During the same period that the public opinion survey was being conducted, the 2nd International Congress on Terrorism was being held in Tehran and international delegates overwhelmingly agreed that economic sanctions targeting innocent civilians for political purposes is Terrorism.
Approximately 63 percent of Iran’s population is under 30 years of age, and a vast majority wants to re-connect with the world. Many are reformists but they want change to come peacefully and from the Iranian people not from outside. They want to reform their government over time and believe they have the political power to do so and to safeguard the nuclear deal in the process. Students interviewed last week in Tehran were nearly unanimous in their insistence that funds coming to their government from the scrapping of sanctions must be spent on domestic needs that directly serve the Iranian people and not scattered around the region.
Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament and many hardliners are deeply suspicious of the USA and Britain and have not hidden their disdain towards the reopening of both embassies. However the decision to restore relations fully, according to one Iranian official intimately involved with the subject, would not be blocked by Iran’s parliament when the issue comes up for a vote.
Expressions like “Death to America” are less common today here in Tehran and these insults are being increasingly replaced among youth with “Hello World!” slogans on T-shirts. This observer believes that the “Death to America” slogan has been misunderstood somewhat in the west. This is because many times when the slogan was chanted in Iran it was not intended to be taken literally but because the slogan’s author was the still much loved Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who reputedly coined the slogan during the tumultuous Iranian revolution. People often use it to identify with and express veneration for the founder of the Islamic Republic.
Equally misunderstood was former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alleged threats to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” But as Iranians explain to foreign visitors-and as Ahmadinejad becomes more politically active and still maintains a popular political base, the reality is that as Middle Eastern commentator Juan Cole has clarified, such a threat was never made. Wrote Mr. Cole, “The actual quote does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all … [Ahmadinejad] quoted Khomeini that ‘the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.’ It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.”
Some attitudes expressed in Tehran these days remind one of recent surveys by the Pew Research Center suggesting that younger American Jews are much less likely to regard caring about Israel as essential to their Jewish identity and are more inclined to regard America’s support for Israel as excessive, including that Israel is not an embattled underdog but rather a threat to peace. Similarly, Iranian youth are becoming more politically active. This, as they seek a future that grants them more control over their personal choices, careers and lives along with the implied criticism of some of their country’s leadership.
The American Embassy is located on the corner of Taleqani Ave and S. Mofateh St. in Tehran, and the 65 year old structure has been emptied of US diplomats for the past 36 years. Physically, it is in pretty good shape, all considered. The chancery building is a long, low two-story brick building, and looks strikingly similar to the Milwaukie Union High School in Clackamas county Oregon, this observer’s alma mater. Both were built in the 1940’s.
While not generally open to the public except by special permission, the US Embassy has been put to use over the years as a Middle School and for housing student organizations offices as well as for Basij units of the Revolutionary Guards. It also houses a museum of sorts exhibiting tools and equipment from the “Den of Spies,” “Den of Espionage,” and “Nest of Spies as the diplomatic compound has sometimes been labeled, but less frequently so these days. Also a large mural with anti-American graffiti surrounds the lobby staircase but as an acquaintance noted, it will be quickly painted over when the time is right.
Clean up work is being done on the exterior walls and the painted “Death to America”, “Great Satan,” “criminals,” “corrupt,” “arrogant,” and “anti-Koran,” signs have virtually disappeared.
The rationale for opening both Iran’s and America’s embassies is compelling and goes back to the reasons for The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 to which 190 countries are signatories. Embassies contribute to the achievement of international peace and security and facilitate the work, cultural exchanges, business, travel, and development of both countries.
To paraphrase British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at a ceremony the other day here in Tehran to mark the reopening of his country’s embassy, as Iran reopened its embassy in London, removing the barriers from the Iranian and American embassies is the logical next step for our countries.
And it will help build confidence and trust between two great nations. This observer submits that both the Iranian and American people are ready for reconciliation.
And we should direct our leaders accordingly.