While nearing the end of his first term, the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boldly termed the tough, cruel economic sanctions against Iran as "scraps of paper", naively advising the world powers to "issue [UNSC] resolutions and rejoice"; however, perhaps few of his advisors had told him that Iran's economy would move to the verge of an all-out collapse because of those "scraps of paper" and that an incredible international isolation would be what befalls the country in a matter of 3, 4 years.
On various occasions, Mr. President ridiculed the sanctions imposed against Iran over its nuclear program, and irritated the Iranians suffering under the brunt of the most rigorous economically punitive measures directed against a sovereign nation in the last 50 years.
On November 17, 2007 during the OPEC leaders summit in Riyadh, he notoriously said, "today, it's impossible to confront even a small island with sanctions, let alone Iran!"
I'm confident Mr. Ahmadinejad knew that the sanctions were wrecking Iran's economy and the burden was simply borne by the average citizens; however, he didn't want to lose the battle of reputation he had started. He had vowed to advance Iran's nuclear program at any cost. But you know, tying a nation's pride and ideals to the number of centrifuges operating in a nuclear power plant is somewhat outlandish and hard to justify!
Ahmadinejad's failed foreign and nuclear policies paved the way for the coming to power of moderate diplomat and cleric Hassan Rouhani in 2013, who had promised to pursue "constructive engagement" with the international community and a "win-win solution" for the nuclear standoff.
Almost two years after being elected president, Mr. Rouhani delivered his promise, and negotiations over Iran's nuclear file, which his team of diplomats and experts set in motion and spearheaded, were concluded successfully and culminated in an agreement that came to be known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
This 159-page document, which is endorsed by the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, sets out certain restrictions on the sensitive parts of Iran's nuclear program, including an intrusive inspection regime, and stipulates the annulment of economic sanctions placed on Iran. The text of the deal is highly-technical and complicated, but in a nutshell, it says quite a few simple things: there shouldn't be any nuclear weapons in Iran, and consequently, there won't be any economic sanctions on Iran!
The conclusion of the nuclear agreement was announced on July 14, in the Austrian capital Vienna. In less than 7 hours, and after the Iftar time - it was one of the last days of the holy month of Ramadan - thousands of enthusiastic Iranians, mostly youths and students, poured into the streets, carrying the Iranian flags, pictures of President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and banners reading victorious slogans, celebrating one of the biggest diplomatic breakthroughs of the recent times, and an agreement that had brought an end to some 12 years of tension and conflict between Iran and the West.
The social media pages of Iranian users were soon filled with congratulatory messages, and text messaging services were flooded with happy remarks, good wishes and some satirical references to the "scraps of paper" and "the man who has now gone!"
Iranians were quick in rejoicing at the nuclear agreement, mostly for the fact that such an agreement ensured the termination of the sanctions that had awfully troubled their daily lives and complicated their access to medicine, foodstuff and other basic staples. Moreover, the agreement would mean an opening in Iran's frosty relations with the world nations, and a new beginning for Iran's foreign policy. Beyond that, for thousands of young, ambitious Iranians wishing to travel internationally or study abroad, this agreement had significant implications.
However, there were still people who didn't feel happy with what had made millions of Iranians happy and took them to the streets of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Zanjan, Tabriz, Kish and other cities for nightly carnivals.
The hardliners warned the people against "early celebrations" that would send "erroneous signals of overexcitement" to the "enemy." A number of arch-conservative MPs, newspapers and media outlets downplayed the landmark agreement, rehashing the outworn mantra that an agreement with the "Great Satan" would not be valid.
Today, the Iranians can easily compare the legacy of President Ahmadinejad in his 8-year term and the efficient policies of President Rouhani 2 years after he took office. What President Rouhani has achieved is the elimination of those "scraps papers", a new chapter in not only Iran's diplomatic relations but the global diplomacy and international relations, the peaceful settlement of the corrosive nuclear dispute, the riddance of the specter of a new war in the Middle East and a global competition to win Iran's markets.
During the past two months, the Austrian President Heinz Fischer, the German Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders and Poland's Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski paid visits to Tehran to discuss the expansion of economic and political relations with Iran.
These visits and exchanges - although routine and uneventful in global diplomacy, are somewhat new and surprising to the Iranian people, as the same leaders who are rushing to Iran to negotiate new trade deals with the Iranian businesspeople would turn away from Ahmadinejad and his administration officials 3, 4 years ago, and would prefer not to set foot on Iran's soil even as a political gesture.
To the detriment of hardliners, Iran is reemerging as a regional power, and it's easily predictable that with another four years in office plus the two intact years he has in hand - unless Ahmadinejad comes up with a new wizardry and wins the 2017 elections, President Rouhani will be able to build a strong and peace-making Iran which nobody will be able to demonize or depict as a threat to world peace and security.
Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist, writer and media correspondent. He has won three awards in Iran's National Press Festival. He is the recipient of three international journalism fellowships. Kourosh has conducted exclusive interviews with tens of prominent world leaders, politicians, diplomats, academicians, intellectuals, media personalities, authors, scientists and Nobel Prize laureates. A collection of his articles and interviews is available on his website.