As US Congress returns from a summer break to debate the July 14 Iran nuclear accord, the agreement’s critics – led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – are investing millions of dollars in ads and lobbying to scuttle the deal.
But in hopes of countering the anti-nuclear deal rhetoric, a number of Iranian-Americans have come together to create campaigns and initiatives to help rally support for the nuclear agreement signed by Iran, the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in Vienna last July.
They hope to turn the scales against powerful lobby groups who warn of the alleged dangers of the accord on local and national TV networks in the US.
One ad in particular, paid for by Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran – a “non-profit organization [set up in 2015] dedicated to preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear efforts” and led by former Democratic members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate – urges citizens to “reject a bad deal.”
AIPAC itself says that the deal signed by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart in Vienna two months ago “would facilitate rather than prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and would further entrench and empower the leading state sponsor of terror”.
In early September, both Kerry and President Barack Obama appeared to have the upper hand when they gained the support of 34 Democrats in Congress who would sustain an executive veto that could be used if the legislature rejects the nuclear deal.
Many Iranian-Americans, meanwhile, are rallying public support using social networks linking them to members of their community in North America and Europe, as well as friends and family living in Iran.
The goal is to get the US congress to support the nuclear deal and to end the 30-year antagonism between the two countries. A constellation of Iranians have come together to lobby the US legislature to ratify the deal, and raise awareness about it on an international level.
Tech-savvy Iranian turnout
Negar Mortazavi, 34, an Iranian-American journalist based in New York City, described the Support Iran Deal campaign she helped kick start in August as a transnational event collectively organized by Iranians living abroad and at home.
From a café in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, she coordinates with friends in London, sending quick voice notes over Whatsapp to organizing members of the campaign.
Mortavazi, like many of her counterparts in the diaspora, is bilingual, tech-savvy and well connected with a vast social network.
“We don’t have 40 million dollars, but we have creativity, we have the network and the social media,” said Mortavazi.
She describes the solidarity among the younger Iranians living in the diaspora as a ’generational thing’ that transcends the political loyalties of her parents’ generation.
Mortazavi, part of a generation of Iranian baby-boomers of the 1980s, immigrated with her family to the US when she was 20.
She grew up in Iran and voted in almost every presidential election since the age of 16, the legal age of voting in the Islamic Republic.
She believes in the importance of political participation in a country like Iran, and argues that the power structure does allow for small yet significant leeway for change “in the behavior of the state,” the kind of change that made such a deal possible.
“At every point, the logic was that, if we don’t participate, the worse would come into power, and that would mean that not only are we maintaining the status quo, but we will also be regressing,” said Mortazavi. “So this is what happened with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
Although she recognizes that Ahmadinejad’s rise to power was partially due to the fact that the Green reform movement was contained, she maintains that Iranian presidential elections held every four years continue to provide the best opportunity for change.
Ahmadinejad’s successor President Hassan Rouhani ran on a platform that not only promised to repair the relationship between the Iranian state and its people, but also to salvage Tehran’s relations with the outside world, one that was particularly damaged by Ahmadinejad’s polemics against Israel.
It was immediately after Rouhani’s election that the US seriously committed to negotiating with Iran over it’s nucler program.
“I think the actual date of the nuclear deal is a just newspaper headline, but it’s been going on for the past two years,” said Mortazavi.
“Rouhani had already started repairing [Iran’s] relationship with the outside world, he ran on a platform of ‘constructive engagement with the world’.”
Mani Khosrovani, an Iranian architect currently residing in New York City, says he has participated in advocacy campaigns promoting the Vienna nuclear deal primarily because it would mean the lifting of sanctions, which he says had a profound effect on his life prior to his immigration to the US.
He contrasts himself to second and third-generation Iranians whose parents emigrated from Iran soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution and who might have developed an aversion to theocratic Iran due to their parents’ pro-monarchy allegiances.
He finds more common ground with the second group of young Iranians who left Iran more recently in search of better education or career opportunities.
“Most of the people [belonging] to this [ second] group have grown up in Iran and are in constant contact with their families and friends there,” said Khosrovani.
“Some of them visit their home city every year. A big majority of this group are reformists who advocate change in the regime structure but in a peaceful and gradual way.”
But can the nuclear deal, once ratified, produce change in attitudes in Iran and the Middle East?
Arang Keshavarzian, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at New York University, is cautious in assuming that this initial deal will lead to a dramatic shift in US foreign policy in the region.
But he argues that it has become clear to Washington that the security structure the US created through 30 years of alliances with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey is “simply not producing stability in the region.”
“If [the deal] does go through, which ultimately I do think it will, then I suspect there are specific places where the US will turn to Iran, [like] Yemen and Syria, for cooperation,” said Keshavarzian.
He says that Iraq and its long-term stability remains one of the most critical issues for both Tehran and Washington. Currently, both countries have maintained an uneasy understanding as they both dedicate men and material to fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Keshavarzian believes that such crises create “enough space for shared interests between Iran and the US”.
By Sulafah Al-Shami for The BRICS Post in New York