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A Deal with Iran—Three Questions for Robert Kelley

Professor Robert Kelley (300x200)

After intensive negotiations, world powers and Iran announced a landmark deal on Tuesday to curb Iran's nuclear program. We asked SIS Assistant Professor Robert Kelley, an expert on public diplomacy and civil society, for some insight:

Q: The deal is a significant achievement for the Obama administration and for Secretary of State John Kerry. What does the United States hope to achieve with this deal?

It's easy to conclude the Western gambit revolves around the nuclear disarmament of Iran. That was the major demand coming out of Washington and what we heard from the rhetoric. And while that is certainly true, there is another level of negotiation going on within the U.S. domestic space as well as within America's international coalition. The Obama administration badly wants to show that diplomacy, along with sanctions, was the proper course to bring about this result. It's a classic representation of the two-level game, only in reverse. Now that the deal is done in Vienna, this administration will have a lot of persuading to do at home.

Q: The deal marks the end of a thirteen year standoff with Iran over its nuclear program. What were Iran’s demands?

For the United States and its five partners, an acceptable deal had to divert Iran from nuclearization and subject it to stringent inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). On the other side, the Iranians desperately wanted to see the lifting of the damaging economic sanctions regime currently in place. The strategy of the so-called “P5 + 1” (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China, facilitated by the European Union) was to use the sanctions to compel the Iranians to negotiate the nuclear issue, and by all accounts it worked.

Diplomacy has always been the preferred course of action. What's changed is the Iranians felt the pinch and their public wanted to see the deal get done.

Q: Now that a deal has been reached, what will be the role of civil society in implementing it? How can civil society actors help facilitate dialogue and understanding between the United States and Iran?

Diplomacy is not just for elites anymore. Therefore, all sides must find ways to integrate civil society into the implementation of the deal, and even build upon it. Financial and commercial sectors will be essential to the lifting of sanctions, while the matter of inspections must engender transparency among the scientific community. Ultimately, Iranians must be encouraged to police themselves. Elites can also look to civil society to reduce tensions that otherwise run amok in the theater of politics, and that gives an expanded set of stakeholders the room to creatively solve problems at low political cost.

The deal represents a kind of diplomatic breakthrough publics on all sides hunger for, but the burden falls heavily on civil society to execute it—and hold it together.

Read Kelley’s recent piece about the role of civil society in the Iran deal:

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