The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama less than nine months into his presidency has raised questions questions as to what he has actually done for world peace. Whilst his list of concrete achievements might be a short one, his commitment and his approach to resolving some of the worlds most intractable problems is nevertheless impressive. Earlier this month in Geneva Iranian and American officials engaged in the most direct engagement for over 30 years. The indications are that the meetings have been a modest but significant success and the talks demonstrate the importance of nations doing just that: talking to one another…etc
Last week in Geneva Iranian and American officials engaged in the most direct engagement for over 30 years. The indications are that the meetings have been a modest but significant success and the talks demonstrate the importance of nations doing just that: talking to one another.
Iran’s new proposal to export uranium for third-party enrichment abroad for use in its US-built Tehran reactor is a significant concession. Although many commentators argue that President Amadinejad is merely “playing for time” it is important to remember that there is still plenty of time to play with. Last month it was revealed that US intelligence agencies still believe that Iran has not resumed nuclear-weapons development work, halted in 2003. Furthermore the widely reported story last month that Iran had a covert nuclear facility in Qom turned out to be misleading. It emerged that the Iranians had already declared its existence to the IAEA.
Whilst there are still hawkish elements within the Obama adminstration, the fact that President Obama has demonstrated a willingness to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions is a welcome policy shift to the intransigence of the Bush White House. Indeed the Financial Times noted in an editorial last week that President Obama “has got more out of Iran in eight hours than his predecessor’s muscular posturing did in eight years.”
However, after eight years of George Bush, it seems that the US public and in particular the right-wing American media are so unfamiliar with a foreign policy based on patient diplomacy and consensus-building that they are quick to equate it to weakness. Indeed, recent poll results suggest that Obama’s popularity has slipped below 50 percent. Whilst watching his approval ratings slide cannot be a pleasant feeling for a man whose star has been on the ascendant for so long, Barack Obama should not worry about the domestic slump in his popularity. Indeed he should relish it. Good leaders make tough decisions and Obama’s singular determination not to court public opinion but to do what he believes is right is refreshingly unusual among our leaders.
Obama’s commitment to a “global zero” as the goal of a nuclear-free future represents an an important shift in America’s legitimacy in tackling the worldwide nuclear arms race. President Obama’s vision is not just built of words but is already backed by some action. He has stopped funding for the development of a replacement nuclear warhead, is pushing the Senate to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty and recently announced that scrapping of the plans for a missile defense shield in Europe. His efforts to make a “new beginning” with the Muslim World are ground breaking and his approach to Iran is already bearing fruit. In his broadcast to Iran and his Cairo speech, he publicly recognised the ayatollahs as the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people, acknowledged Iran’s right to enrich uranium and talked openly about the CIA’s role in the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953. By demonstrating to the Iranians that America is not “the great Satan” and by engaging in direct talks without preconditions Obama has shown that diplomacy is the only way forward.
Even if Obama’s domestic popularity is on the wane, his standing in the eyes of the world remains undiminished. And it is on the global stage that he is most needed. He has described his Nobel Prize as “a call to action” and by helping to steer nations of the world around the negotiating table, President Obama can help to ensure that the many catastrophic threats facing our fragile planet are overcome.