The oft-covered Iranian Nuclear Deal and the future developments that will result from it will greatly determine the stake of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations. The initial rapprochement between Iran and the P5+1 nations has generated such conjecture over the future of Middle Eastern geo-political relations that it has drawn comparisons to President Nixon’s diplomatic overture with China in 1972.
But does this deal with Iran truly compare to the stroke of skillful diplomacy President Nixon displayed?
Let us take a look at what the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran constitutes:
-A commitment to halt progress on the growth of existing stockpiles of low enriched uranium, to halt work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak, and full access by IAEA inspectors to all nuclear facilities.
-A limited, temporary, and reversible relief package that would provide $7 billion in relief, a fraction of Iran’s approximately $100 billion inaccessible foreign exchange holdings.
The Iranian Nuclear Deal is a concentrated effort towards mitigating nuclear hegemonic concerns. Some declare this a failure for United States foreign policy because it concedes too much to an untrustworthy nation. There are obviously some who declare the deal a success because it opens new diplomatic channels to a once isolated Iran.
But pundits on either side of the spectrum miss the point. The deal is a reaction to a very specific Iranian element, and is not emblematic of overarching Iranian interests or P5+1 interests. Coupling nuclear capabilities with all diplomatic interests of a nation is short-sited; it is difficult to negotiate with a country when a large portion of its economic capability is controlled by other world powers.
When we look back to the Nixon presidency, we see a leader who postured himself in favor of a new-age diplomacy—one that included diplomatic overtures with an isolated China. Leaders of the modern world should be mindful of how President Nixon established diplomatic relations with China, especially given the unknowns of China at that time.
He recognized in the 1960s that to continue on the same path of American indifference to the Chinese situation was unrealistic and dangerous, particularly in the case that China developed nuclear weapons.
“Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” RN, Nixon on the Issues
President Nixon would open the door to China with the foot of his diplomatic forte—“to carefully distinguish between long-range and short-range policies, and fashioning short-range programs so as to advance our long-range goals.”
These long-range goals were reflected upon in a set of letters from the President to critical allies in Taiwan and South Vietnam. He assured his allies that his visit to the “enemy” would not countermand prearranged treaty agreements. He urged them to understand the purpose “to help ensure that these events will move [all nations] in the direction of a stable and enduring international order.”
RN’s letters to President Nguyen Van Thieu of the Republic of Vietnam and President Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China stating his unwavering support of his allies’ interests despite meeting with Communist China.
A memo dated February 21, 1972, transcribes the famed conversation between President Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong at the onset of the China trip. During the conversation, he fashioned to Mao the purpose of their meeting:
“What brings us together is a recognition of a new situation in the world and a recognition on our part that what is important is not a nation’s internal political philosophy,” President Nixon said. “What is important is its policy toward the rest of the world and toward us.”
Transcript of conversation between President Nixon and Chairman Mao, talks that set the stage for the successful Shanghai Joint Communiqué.
In a conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua discussing final revisions to the joint communiqué, Kissinger reiterated the President’s strategy and the importance of the document.
“That after this long interval it has been a very delicate and difficult task for both of us, in which there are many obstacles ahead and in which both sides have had to exercise great restraint on many issues which are quite complex for them, but that it is in the spirit that it should be considered, and not every single word in the communiqué.”
Transcript of Henry Kissinger and Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua in the final stages of Joint Communiqué revisions.
Philosophical differences aside, President Nixon set the stage for the successful establishment of the Shanghai Joint Communiqué.
The differences between the communiqué and the current Iranian nuclear deal are glaring; while the deal narrowly discusses nuclear terms, the communiqué established a statement of both sides’ differences as well as agreements, particularly agreements in the principles of international relations and peace.
If President Nixon were overseeing negotiations with Iran today, he might proclaim that the Middle East cannot be safe until Iran changes just as he once said the world cannot be safe until China changes.
“The way to do this is to persuade China that it must change: that it cannot satisfy its imperial ambition, and that its own national interest requires a turning away from foreign adventuring and turning inward toward the solution of its own domestic problems.” RN, Nixon on the Issues
The administration convinced China to change via subtle signals and the establishment of various backchannels for communication. President Nixon made many low-level signals to the Chinese demonstrating an interest in opening discussions with China in 1969, a time when its relationship with the Soviet Union was hostile. When the trip to China was announced, the United States halted U-2 reconnaissance flights over Mainland China and attempted at all possible to prevent its Laotian agents operating in Northern Laos from entering Communist China. Through the use of backchannel sources, the United States pledged to provide intelligence reports of Soviet military activity to Chinese officials. To establish trust between both sides would take time, but it began with an extended hand from the United States and an acceptance of internal differences from both parties.
The Obama administration has initiated a short-term goal, believing that this in of itself is enough to quell concerns over Iran’s aggressive behavior. To apply Nixonian diplomacy, the administration will have to convince Iranian leaders, most notably Supreme leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, that it must turn away from opposition of the Israeli state and western powers and solve its own domestic political issues.
Only then can there confidently be a path towards normalization with Iran and peace in the Middle East.