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Diplomatic mastery in Iran: Obama's Nobel worthy achievement?

Having accomplished a nuclear deal with Iran, perhaps Obama is finally worthy of his Nobel Peace Prize

Within 12 months of being elected president, Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, although he had done nothing whatsoever to deserve this famous honour. The same was true of the next six years of his presidency.

Finally the US president has achieved something amazing. The nuclear deal with Iran is about far more than ending two decades of squabbling about Iranian nuclear facilities.

It can also end the long period of Iran's international isolation. It makes the prospect of war in the Middle East much less likely. Above all, it brings to a close a long and tortured period when the US policy in the Middle East was perilously one-eyed and lopsided.

Today’s announcement will open the way towards a solution for many of the most intractable problems in the region. It marks the crowning achievement of the Obama presidency. Achieving this has requried alot of guts on both sides. President Rouhani has faced continued opposition from inside the Iranian right wing, above all the Republican Guard. Meanwhile, President Obama has faced a powerful campaign of opposition from the Republican Party in the US, supported by key allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. They have fought long and hard to prevent the deal and will continue to do so. 

It is essential to note that today’s announcement is not the end of the story. President Obama will face a very long and difficult battle to force his deal through Congress. Roughly the same applies to Prime Minister Rouhani who has had to face down the most militant elements on his own side to get this result.

However, if this deal can be bedded down I believe it could be as momentous as the historic reconciliation between the US and China in the early 1970s, which ended three decades of Chinese isolation and was one of the defining events of the twentieth century.

The same applies with Iran. There has been a cold war (and a series of vicious proxy wars) between the US and Iran ever since the Shah of Iran, a US puppet, was overthrown in 1979.

During this period, visceral hostility to Iran repeatedly caused the US to misread the entire Middle East. It forced successive US Presidents into a series of disastrous alliances with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf dictatorships and Israel.

For many years the US was a close ally of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, supplying the blood-stained Iraqi dictator with chemical weapons for use against his Iranian enemies. When Iran offered the United Stares help in fighting the Taliban after the 9/11 atrocity in New York, President Bush turned the offer down.

Successive American presidents have refused to acknowledge that Iran is a state with an ancient history and legitimate national interests, and potentially a profound force for stability throughout the Middle East.

To give one current example, there is no chance of a peace deal in Syria without the co-operation of Iran. Likewise, Iran ought to be a key player in the fight against the menace of ISIS.

For these reasons the future of the region would have been very bleak without a deal. The often well-informed Saudi commentator, Mujtahid Bin Hammaam, speculated over Twitter a few days ago that war might have broken out if the talks had failed in Vienna.

Perhaps Bin Hammaam was overstating the case. However, the region would certainly have reverted into two armed camps and this time the Middle East cold war would have been more dangerous than ever before. Iran would have been backed by its neighbour Russia, and even more crucially by China, the emerging global challenger to the US.

Of course, this may well still happen, but today’s deal makes that much less likely. There is a further point to be made here. For the last 20 years there has been a general assumption in the West that conflicts between states were best settled by military force. Hence the disasters of Afghanistan, Iraq (and more recently) Libya.

It would have been so easy for the dispute with Iran to have degenerated into military conflict. On many occasions it nearly did so. There is always an alternative to war. It is called diplomacy. The tools of diplomacy are not glamorous. Diplomacy is about talking. Cultivating relationships, developing friendships, endless patience and time.

This announcement above all is a triumph for diplomacy. Perhaps it is not coincidence that the Secretary of State, John Kerry, unlike George W Bush, actually saw armed combat as a decorated US navy lieutenant in the Vietnam War. Unlike Bush, Kerry had experienced war and knows what it means.

It may be impossible to win the Nobel Peace Prize twice, so Barack Obama may miss out. But Kerry, who has been the finest US Secretary of State since James Baker 25 years ago, and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, would be very worthy winners.

It’s worth remembering that there would have been no need for an Iranian nuclear deal had George W Bush and Tony Blair not vetoed Zarif’s offer made to the West at the Quai d’Orsay in the spring of 2005.

In recent years Western leaders, influenced by neo-conservatism, have too often chosen to resolve conflict through war. What a marvellous signal it sends to the world that the potentially calamitous conflict over Iranian nuclear ambitions has been resolved without resort to force. This is a glorious moment for the world.

- Peter Oborne was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He recently resigned as Chief Political Columnist of the Daily Telegraph. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class; The Rise of Political Lying; and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye 

Photo: File photo shows US President Barack Obama (AFP)