Is Reconciliation Possible with Iran?

By Don Mead

Our world is confronting a major fork in the road in negotiations concerning Iran's nuclear programs. The deadline is fast approaching for reaching agreement in talks currently taking place in Geneva. The outcome will have widespread implications, opening possibilities for scaling back on conflicts or adding dangerous fuel to those fires in many places around the globe.

Some have argued that Iran has shown itself to be so untrustworthy in the past that it cannot be allowed to have any nuclear program at all, not even for peaceful purposes. But Iranians are a proud people who have rights like the rest of us. They are signatories of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which gives them full rights to a peaceful nuclear program. They have repeatedly affirmed that they have no intention of building atomic weapons, and their Supreme Leader has stated that the use of nuclear weapons is forbidden to Muslims.

Over the past twelve months, serious negotiators on both sides of the conflict have made significant progress in reaching agreement in several important dimensions. The United States and our Western partners have recognized the right of Iran to have a nuclear industry for peaceful purposes, but not those components of a nuclear program that could only be justified by military needs. The Iranians have agreed to make significant changes in several aspects of their programs that were most problematic in opening up possibilities of producing weapons; in each case, they have followed through in making agreed-upon changes, according to time schedules agreed upon, and those changes have been verified by international inspectors, who now have broader authority than previously existed to carry out such inspections. The result is that Iran's nuclear threat is significantly less dangerous today than it was twelve months ago. In response, there has been some easing of the international sanctions which were causing serious problems to Iran's economy. In spite of these changes, the threat remains. More needs to be done; the final stages of the negotiations will determine whether a resolution can be found that will be acceptable to both sides.

Failure of the negotiations would mean a return to the status quo ante: elimination of the progress made to date in cutting back on Iran's nuclear enrichment program, reduced opportunity for inspections. It would substantially increase the risk of military intervention to seek to halt the program. Some have described this as a choice between inspectors on the ground vs. boots on the ground. Those who want to scuttle the negotiations – and there are strong voices on both sides of the discussions seeking to do so – are surely adding to the probability of military intervention – i.e. of war.

In our last two General Assemblies, the PC(USA) has taken clear stands in support of a negotiated diplomatic solution to this conflict. The PPF needs to embrace that commitment, endorsing our government's search for a negotiated diplomatic solution and calling on our representatives to resist calls to impose new demands on the Iranians. In the face of all the complexities involved, this is what it means for us to be peacemakers in this time and place.