Even before the details of the temporary deal between Iran and the P5+1 group were released on Saturday, many Iranians were already celebrating. Just the idea of an agreement — any agreement — between Iran and the United States was enough to bring tears to the eyes of this Iranian-American, and I wasn’t alone. Iranians all over the world took to social media to express their elation at the first formal agreement between the U.S. and Iran in over 30 years. I received Facebook and Twitter messages from across the globe, all striking the same tone as this tweet from @PrrrsianKitten, who lists her location as “Wonderland”: “I’m so happy, I keep crying and laughing. This is such a great day/middle of the night/evening!”
Like most of my fellow Iranians and Americans, I know next to nothing about nuclear physics. What I do know, however, is that my two homelands have been at odds my entire life, and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the nasty rhetoric; I’m sick the never-ending sanctions, and I’m sick of the bullying, double standards and unkept promises.
To me and so many others, this isn’t just a matter of international relations. It’s personal. The ramifications of economic and political isolation are not limited to government entities. Such isolation can have serious psychological consequences for individuals, no matter how apolitical they may strive to be.
For countless Iranians, this deal represents a chance to begin to heal — not just economically and politically, but psychologically. For this deal to succeed, for it to lead to a long-term solution, negotiators cannot afford to ignore this latter piece of the puzzle — especially in the case of Iran.
Iranians are an exceptionally proud lot — over 2,500 years of civilization, surviving myriad foreign invasions, and building one of the greatest empires in human history will do that to a people. That said, this pride can often border on — and even fall face-first into — the absurd.
Consider the 2008 photo of an Iranian missile test provided by Sepah News, the Revolutionary Guard’s media arm. While only three missiles were in fact tested in that instance, the Photoshopped image included an extra non-existent fourth missile in an apparent effort to exaggerate Iran’s military capabilities — all of which sort of makes you wonder whether the Iranians wouldn’t be showing off their nuke (or near-nuke) if they really (or almost) had one. Whatever the case, it’s a classic example of the extremes to which the Iranian government will go to not only maintain its honor, but boost it.
Combine this extreme pride with an acute appreciation for nuance, and you end up with leaders who are often quick to take offense at even the slightest hint of condescension. Such was the case with former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who never missed a chance to draw attention to America’s arrogance and hypocrisy while consistently refusing to recognize his own. While President Hassan Rohani appears to be a much more reasonable man by all accounts, he is not immune to this peculiarly Iranian and potentially dangerous sense of pride — nor is Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Ultimately, the greatest hope for a meaningful, long-term deal on the Iranian side has nothing to do with uranium or isotopes or centrifuges. Rather, it’s about something much bigger: respect.
For the Iranians, sanctions not only represent a cruel and misguided political tactic that has devastated countless everyday families, but they represent disrespect. By easing sanctions, even as minimally as this deal does, world powers have shown Iran a new level of respect. Whether or not this was their intent, the P5+1 must recognize and appreciate the critical role that perceived respect — particularly from the Americans — will continue to play in future negotiations with Iran. In short, if there were ever a time to choose honey over vinegar, it’s now.