Time, even if it is less than four short decades, has a way of erasing memory.
So it seems regarding this country’s ties to what is now formally known as the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In the 1970s, under the dictatorial hand of the Shah, Iran was not only a major U. S. ally in the Middle East but also was an important trading partner with its massive production of oil. And its contracts with Bell Helicopter had a direct economic impact on North Texas.
Along with production and professional training agreements with Bell, Iranians were regular visitors to Tarrant County, and hundreds of the helicopter manufacturer’s employees were assigned to posts in Iran.
Many Iranian students were enrolled in area colleges, especially the University of Texas at Arlington.
All that changed after the Iranian Revolution, which began in 1978 and resulted in the Shah being deposed and the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who set up a strict Islamic, anti-American theocracy.
The U.S./Iran relationship was further strained — in fact, permanently severed — after Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, taking more than 50 American hostages and holding them for 444 days.
That country’s antagonism toward the West, its threats against Israel and its bold initiative to build nuclear capability further isolated it from the world community, to the point that the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations embarked on a series of crippling sanctions to force Iran to abandon its plans to build a nuclear weapon.
Those sanctions have been quite effective, to the extent that the country’s economy has been destroyed by severe reduction of its oil production, the near-total devaluation of its currency, the freezing of hundreds of billions of dollars and other assets in foreign countries, the skyrocketing unemployment and the inflation that is spinning out of control.
Multinational talks seemed to go nowhere, but with the election of a new and more “moderate” president, Hasan Rouhani, President Barack Obama saw an opportunity to try to negotiate directly with the Iranians without the knowledge of some of America’s closest allies like Israel.
After a series of secret meetings between diplomats of the two countries, last weekend in Geneva Secretary of State John Kerry reached an interim agreement with Iran that calls for that country to freeze most of its nuclear operation in exchange for a limited lifting of sanctions. The two nations, along with the European Union, will continue to negotiate ways to inspect the Iranian program and ensure that it will have no nuclear weapons capability.
The deal was immediately criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “historic mistake” and by some members of Congress who say that the administration is being too soft and too trusting of the hostile nation.
This is a good first step in what will be a longer diplomatic process. If that leads to removing the nuclear threat from Iran, great. If it doesn’t, more and tougher sanctions always remain an option. The operative phrase is “Trust, but verify.”
As Obama said, “tough talk and bluster,” while often the easy political thing to do, is not very effective in solving some of the world’s toughest problems.
The majority of the people of Iran, while never enamored of the Shah, have suffered even greater under the theocratic rule since the revolution. It is they, not the government rulers, who have been hurt the most under the crippling sanctions.
Many of those residents, contrary to what their former president/dictator, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, might have you believe, have an appreciation and admiration for the United States. They welcome the potential benefits of this proposed agreement, which might allow their country to rejoin the community of nations.
Congress should back off and give diplomacy a chance to work.