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Expert talks Iran-US relations at UNC

“The very idea that the United States and Iran could ever sit at the same table and talk directly to each other was once deemed hopelessly naive — but today, Iran’s foreign minister and ... Secretary of State John Kerry are Facebook friends,” said Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council.

Parsi, originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran, spoke before an audience of approximately 150 people at the FedEx Global Education Center about the success of the controversial Iran deal and Iranian-American relations in its aftermath.

The event was sponsored by the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, in conjunction with the Duke Islamic Studies Center, UNC Persian Studies and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies.

“The deal has the potential of transforming the relationship (between the U.S. and Iran), it’s not just a transactional agreement,” he said. “Doors that previously were closed are now suddenly open.”

In early July — after nearly 20 months of negotiation — Obama and the U.N. Security Council brokered the agreement, which is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In exchange, the U.S. would lift sanctions imposed during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, though it would leave trade embargoes in place.

According to the White House, it blocks Iran from acquiring highly enriched uranium, weapons grade plutonium and fissile material — all components of a nuclear weapon.

Parsi said by lifting economic sanctions and blocking Iranian efforts to build nuclear weaponry, the U.S. and Iran could de-escalate tensions that have been building for the past 15 years.

One of the major benefits of the deal is that it gives economic power back to more moderate, middle-class Iranians, while simultaneously slowing Iran’s race to develop nuclear weapons.

“This deal has the potential of unleashing Iran’s moderate society. Iran is a country in the Middle East very much unlike other countries in the region in that it has a society that is far more moderate than the government regime that is ruling,” he said. “Regimes come and go — societies endure. And Iran has a young, highly educated society that in its values is much, much closer to the values of the United States.”

After Republican attempts to block the deal — first in the House, then Senate — it was formally adopted Oct. 19. But when the deal will actually take effect is uncertain. As of September, experts have estimated it could be as soon as six to eight months.

Despite arguments by the opposition — particularly the Republicans running for president in the 2016 election — Parsi said the deal does far more good than harm.

“In order to make this deal work, we have to ensure the other side is happy as well — but that’s not part of our political culture right now,” he said.

“It’s not just between the countries anymore, it’s about the compromise that takes place in Congress between Republicans and Democrats.”

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