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Is the agreement better than the alternative?

Galbraith to speak about U.S.-Iran accord at Windham World Affairs Council

BRATTLEBORO—Former Ambassador Peter Galbraith will speak on “The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Why It Is Good for America and How It May Change the Middle East,” as the first in the Windham World Affairs Council’s new “Hot Off the Press” presentations meant to inform civic dialogue on issues of the moment.

The free talk will take place on Friday, July 24, at 7 p.m. at the new performance space in town, 118 Elliot, located on 118 Elliot St., across from the fire station.

Last week, the United States and Iran reached an agreement where the U.S. would loosen economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for several key concessions regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

“Like any negotiated agreement, the test for the Iran Accord is not whether it is exactly what we wanted but whether it is better than the alternative,” Galbraith said.

“This agreement is better than I expected. It eliminates the plutonium route to a bomb, reduces by 96 percent Iran’s supply of enriched uranium and includes permanent [International Atomic Energy Agency] monitoring.

“The alternatives are a nuclear-armed Iran, military strikes with a very uncertain result, or a continuation of sanctions in the forlorn hope of a better deal.”

Galbraith has spent much of the past year in the Kurdish-controlled portions of Iraq and Syria, where the Kurds are engaged in battle with the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS. He believes this new U.S.-Iran agreement will be important in the fight against ISIS.

“In spite of decades of official hostility, the United States and Iran have many common interests,” Galbraith said. “Both strongly oppose Sunni extremism in the form of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Both want to keep the Taliban from coming back in Afghanistan. Both support the Iraqi government, which is led by pro-Iranian Shiite religious parties.

”This agreement may open the door to cooperation in other areas, perhaps most importantly in Syria where both have an interest in preventing a takeover by Sunni extremists and therefore in finding a settlement.”

Additionally, Galbraith believes we might soon see the sort of rapid political change in Iran that we saw a generation ago in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, when the Iron Curtain collapsed and the Cold War ended.

“Iran may be on the cusp of the same kind of rapid political change that we saw in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s,” he said. “The hard-liners have lost control of the society. The Iranian people are the most pro-American in the Middle East.

“It is clear that this agreement greatly strengthens the reformers. The best long-term strategy for containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions is continued political change in the country, and that is what this agreement makes possible.”

Galbraith, who now lives in Townshend, served as ambassador to Croatia during the Clinton administration and helped negotiate the peace treaty that ended the war in that nation in 1995. He also worked for the United Nations in East Timor and Afghanistan and has written two books on the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its consequences.

He also served in the Vermont Senate from 2011 to 2015.

Coffee and cookies will be served before the talk at 6:30 p.m.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #315 (Wednesday, July 22, 2015). This story appeared on page C1.

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