There’d been a surprise announcement: a major breakthrough in nuclear negotiations with Iran over at the United Nations. A journalistic scrum suddenly surrounded the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who’d delivered that news. But King, the man who once brought us the “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle,” jostled past the reporters to tell Zarif, “I want to promote ‘A Fight for Peace in the Middle East!’”
This weird scene was not the most important moment, I suppose, in a day fraught with what seemed to be breakthroughs, but in its way it was the most emblematic. The United Nations General Assembly (or “Hell Week,” as some call it) suddenly has turned into a circus of diplomacy, a riot of expectations. A “fight for peace in the Middle East”? That’s what we’re watching right now.
First came news that the Security Council, frozen by Western posturing and a Russian veto through two years of horrific war in Syria, is about to sign off on a resolution requiring the Assad regime to give up its arsenal of chemical weapons. The deal between Washington and Moscow, hammered out a few days ago in Geneva, seems to be holding up in New York. A senior State Department official called it “a breakthrough won through hard-fought diplomacy.”
The resolution does not include the specific threat of military action—yet. But it left open that possibility if Syrian President Bashar Assad fails to act in good faith during the several stages of disarmament. A month ago, any such measures would have seemed inconceivable. Indeed, a month ago Assad was refusing to admit he had any chemical arsenal at all. But a month ago the horrific images of Syrian children killed by sarin gas, innocents swaddled in their shrouds, forced President Barack Obama to address the carnage. He threatened a punitive act of war. Despite a dithering Congress and a disdainful American public, the diplomatic doors opened. The Russians, of all people, came to Obama’s rescue with the chemical-weapons disarmament gambit. The deal at the Security Council on Thursday was a continuation of that process.
But the even bigger revelation of the day was the progress made on a diplomatic agreement to end the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. No, nothing is signed, sealed, or delivered. Far from it. But what had appeared a shallow charm offensive by recently elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suddenly looked like it had substance.
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