This week's landmark nuclear deal between Iran and Western countries is a diplomatic achievement of monumental proportions. After all, the U.S. and Iran have been sworn enemies for over thirty years — the U.S. doesn't even have an embassy in the country — and past attempts at reaching a nuclear accord with Iran have all fallen flat. But after over 20 months of negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javid Zaraf, managed to hammer out an agreement. Under the terms, Iran will significantly curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.
There are still a lot of question marks. Iran could attempt to cheat or circumvent the nuclear restrictions, for example, or Republicans in Congress could put the kibosh on the whole deal before it takes effect.
But if — and it's a big if — the deal sticks, it will have reverberations that extend beyond the immediate terms of the agreement. Here are a couple of them you should know.
1. Obama's willingness to engage with enemies will be vindicated.
In 2007, Obama said he'd engage in direct negotiations with Iran, which the U.S. hadn't done since the two countries broke diplomatic relations in 1979. "The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them," he explained, "which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the George W. Bush] administration, is ridiculous."
He caught a lot of flack for this, with John McCain insisting that negotiations with Iran would "make the world more dangerous." McCain's sentiment was emblematic of the larger belief, endemic in the GOP, that U.S. presidents should never, ever engage with diplomatic foes, even if some manner of agreement is within reach, because bad guys are bad guys, okay?!
If this deal holds, it'll be pretty hard for anyone to argue this juvenile, chauvinistic position again in the future. (Well, they'll be able to make the argument, but it won't hold any credibility.) This deal — along with Obama's successful opening to Cuba — vindicates the theory that sometimes, having a conversation with someone you don't like can be a win-win for everyone.
2. Life will improve for Iranians.
When the deal was finally announced, elated Iranians flooded the streets to celebrate. Were they cheering because they really want an atomic bomb and believe the deal will allow them make one? Of course not. They celebrated because of the other half of the deal: Sanctions relief, which will directly improve the lives of everyday Iranians.
Iran has been subject to Western sanctions for over three decades, and in the last few years, the West has tightened the noose. That's wrought havoc on the Iranian economy — havoc that's fair from theoretical.
Rapid inflation, for example, once caused the price of vegetables in Iran to double in a single week. Sanctions on gas imports have inadvertently caused massive pollution in the country, leading to a rise in cancer and heart disease, while financial restrictions have been blamed for drug shortages and deteriorating medical care.
While sanctions relief won't immediately fix all of Iran's economic woes, it will certainly improve some of them. Iranians have good reason to celebrate.
3. John Kerry's legacy will be secured.
Obama isn't the only one whose foreign policy chops were validated this week.
Before the Iran deal was announced, John Kerry's tenure at the State Department was generally regarded as a disappointment. His highly-publicized attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord dragged on for months, achieved nothing, then collapsed. U.S.-Russian relations took a serious nosedive on his watch, and his one notable foreign policy achievement — averting war with Syria — was an accident.
Not all of this is Kerry's fault, of course. But legacies are formed, in part, by clear and obvious successes. Prior to this week, Secretary Kerry had few of those to call his own.
But not anymore. Assuming the deal sticks, Kerry will now go down as the man who prevented Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. He did so through sheer patience, spending over 20 months on tireless negotiations that many believed were futile. That — not his Middle East meddling, not his mistaken reference to a non-existent country, and certainly not his failed 2004 presidential run — will be his legacy. And it's a damn good legacy.
4. ISIS could be in trouble.
Despite having poor relations with each other, the U.S. and Iran are basically on the same page with regard to ISIS: They want it destroyed. Teaming up to defeat the Islamic State makes perfect sense; even if U.S. and Iranian troops aren't marching side-by-side, simply sharing intelligence say, or coordinating between U.S. and Iranian warplanes, would strengthen the anti-ISIS coalition.
So far, though, the idea hasn't been seriously entertained. The only reason for this is politics — the U.S. and Iran are supposed to be enemies, right? But this deal has the potential to significantly boost the trust between the two countries, and if that trust holds, ISIS could soon be facing a much more potent foe in Iraq and Syria.
5. The U.S. and Iran will have a chance to make up.
Iran and the U.S. haven't had official diplomatic relations since 1979, when Iranians overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator and installed a radical Islamic cleric instead. Since then, no Iranian president had ever spoken directly with an American president — until 2013, when Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had a phone chat.
Two years later, the two countries struck a deal that most thought impossible. Officially, it's not intended as the beginning of a broader detente between Iran and the U.S. But the agreement brings the two countries much closer together than they've been in over 30 years.
It's still far, far too soon to say whether a U.S.-Iranian reconciliation is in the cards. But this agreement undoubtedly creaks that door open, even if only by a little.