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A Great Moment for Diplomacy

16.07.2015 - Interview

A Great Moment for Diplomacy. By Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Article by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier following the agreement reached in Vienna on Iran’s nuclear programme. Published in the Huffington Post on 16 July 2015.

One does not need a penchant for grandiose rhetoric to call the Vienna agreement on Iran's nuclear program historic. After over a dozen years of tireless negotiation - in Baghdad, Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul, Muscat, Moscow, New York, Almaty, Geneva, Lausanne as well as, most recently, several times in Vienna - we have made a breakthrough. We have succeeded in finding a political solution to a potentially explosive conflict which has driven the world to the brink of military confrontation on numerous occasions and which risked doing so even more in the future.

The deal reached in Vienna is a victory of political sense and perseverance. The Vienna agreement brings more security to the region and rules out the possibility of Iran making a break for a nuclear bomb in a lasting and verifiable manner. A continuous, comprehensive control regime will secure far-reaching restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities.

In return, the Iranians will obtain a gradual relaxation, suspension and eventual lifting of the multi-faceted sanctions regime, but only if it has been verified at every single stage that Tehran has taken the requisite and agreed steps on limiting and monitoring its nuclear program. The accompanying opening, and I am quite sure of this, will usher in a profound change in Iran's economy and society and could equally mark the start of a new chapter in relations between Iran and the West.

President Rouhani had already submitted the approach of genuine willingness to negotiate and change which Iran had embarked upon to his people's approval in the 2013 presidential elections. Their response was clear: the majority of people in Iran wanted the agreement, indeed because they long for the opening it entails, both domestically and internationally. It is entirely in our interest to lend impetus to this development and to breathe new life into our relations with Tehran - not only in political and economic terms but also at the cultural and intersocietal level.

What is even more, the Vienna agreement now offers Iran a unique opportunity to move towards the international community following decades of isolation and confrontation. It gives cause for hope that, beyond Vienna, Tehran's policy will no longer see only opponents but rather potential partners and win-win arrangements in the Middle East.

With the E3+3 Format we created a negotiating group which helped overcome the decades-long lack of communication between Iran and the US whilst at the same time bringing major international players closer together in pursuit of their mutual interests.

Perhaps we can now capitalize on the momentum of the historic agreement in Vienna and initiate attempts to de-escalate the serious conflicts elsewhere in the region.

The Vienna agreement shows us that two things are necessary for this: unity of the international community combined with a strong desire to act in favor of common interests, as well as the patience and willingness to approach a solution by taking small, pragmatic steps to overcome distrust and try out ideas and discussion formats. That is also our approach in Libya, where in Berlin a month ago we brought together the United Nations Special Representative and the parties to the conflict.

It is however in Syria that the need for this is most urgent, where the civil war is now raging, unabated, in its fifth year. Ten million people have fled, a quarter of a million have been killed. The longer the conflict lasts, the more we in Germany are also affected - not only by refugee flows unseen since the Second World War but by the spread of terrorist groups such as ISIS.

The Syrian sides seem more entrenched than ever, both in military and political terms. Something which many perceived as a peaceful uprising against despotism and repression in the midst of the Arab Spring in 2011 rapidly evolved into a proxy war with ethnic, confessional and ideological overtones, waged at the expense of the Syrian people. Foreign fighters and countless Islamist militias dominate the scene. The Syrian army's cruelty knows no bounds in its defence of Assad's grasp on power. We are not left with much time to salvage the remnants of some form of a Syrian nation.

All efforts of the United Nations to compel the conflict parties to reach a peaceful solution have so far failed in Syria, in no small part due to the lack of unity in the Security Council and the clash of interests between the US and Russia. I sincerely hope that we will soon be able to overcome this, for even Moscow can see that the Assad regime is in increasingly dire straits.

The neighboring countries need to collaborate, too, above all Turkey and Saudi Arabia; it is undoubtedly in their interest to prevent Syria from collapsing entirely. And we need an Iran which becomes involved in and actively contributes to the search for a peaceful, political solution.

It is not possible for such a process to succeed whilst Assad and his barrel bombs stand on one side, and the butchers known as ISIS along with other Islamist militias on the other, both receiving strong support from outside powers. There is only one way to put a stop to this catastrophic course of events: the international community must intervene, speaking and acting as one.

Right now, that point may appear hopelessly distant. But the Vienna agreement on the nuclear dispute has shown us that peaceful resolutions of conflicts are possible, even where the level of mistrust and enmity seemed insurmountable at the start. It is an arduous task, and it demands patience and perseverance. But it is wholly worth the effort.

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