TOKYO -- The nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers is a historic milestone that could bring the country back into the international community and help reverse the Middle East's descent into turmoil.
With an agreement that will significantly limit Tehran's nuclear ability in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, the world must now work together to untangle the intricate web of conflicts plaguing the region.
The frantic shuttle diplomacy leading up to Tuesday's announcement reflected the eagerness to reach a deal. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry remained in Vienna for nearly three weeks. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius canceled his trip to Africa. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and China's Wang Yi traveled back and forth between their home countries and Vienna.
Iran's secret nuclear program has been a source of tension in the region since its discovery in 2002. As unrest continues in the Middle East, halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons there has become a top priority for major global powers.
Step toward rapprochement?
The deal is also significant in that it could open a new chapter in relations between Tehran and Washington. It brought "the axis of evil" and the "Great Satan" to the negotiating table.
The West effectively decided to allow Iran's peaceful use of nuclear technology, albeit with restrictions. This is a key policy shift, especially for the U.S., which is said to have once contemplated overthrowing the Tehran government put in place by the Islamic Revolution.
This shift is giving Iran a chance to return to international politics 36 years after the revolution.
"The deal eases the containment pressure on Iran," says Sachi Sakanashi at the JIME Center of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan. "Iran has used its ties to Shiite Muslim groups to counterbalance the U.S., which has been pushing Iran into a corner, but Iran no longer needs to do so," she says. "This could pave the way for the U.S. and Iran to work together to defeat the Islamic State extremists."
Syria, Yemen, Libya and other parts of the region remain mired in seemingly endless civil war while Islamic State militants effectively control parts of Syria and Iraq, subjecting local populations to brutal violence.
The international community has to unite to restore stability in the region, and Iran's participation is crucial in the effort. But Iran's attempt to re-enter the international community is certain to cause a backlash from such countries as Israel and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia, and efforts must be made to calm their nerves.
Nearly 200 years ago, the Greek War of Independence accelerated the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. Artificial borders were drawn by Western powers after World War I to create new nations. A hundred years later, the present strife in the Middle East represents the collapse of that 20th-century system and the search for a new one.
That Greece is on the verge of slipping out of the European Union despite efforts to realize ever-closer unity in the region seems to be indicative of the global struggle.
Although a new Middle Eastern order has yet to take shape, Iran's return to the international community is integral to that process. Ensuring the implementation of the latest deal is the only way to reach that point.