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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: John and Yoko show the way on Iran

Surprising outbreak of peace hasn't completely silenced opponents on either side of nuclear deal

Unlikely as it may seem, the world's great powers are channelling John Lennon and Yoko Ono: "All we are saying," they are saying, "is give peace a chance."

Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - America, China, Russia, Britain and France - are trying to sell the deal they've struck with Iran. In return for halting parts of its nuclear programme and allowing more intrusive international inspections, Iran will get some relief from international sanctions. If the deal holds for six months, the parties will seek a permanent agreement.

A welcome development, then. A long overdue outbreak of sanity in a region where war seems to be the natural order of things.

You'd think so, but critics of the deal seem to be channelling American humorist and commentator P.J. O'Rourke, specifically his 1992 book Give War a Chance.

As a semi-pertinent aside, the book has a Kiwi connection. In the introduction O'Rourke tells of hitching a ride on a New Zealand Air Force C-130 transport plane at the end of the first Gulf War.

The pilot takes the aircraft down to 30m to chase goats and camels around the desert: "The Kiwi pilot and his crew mates all had smiles as wide as their skulls.

This was the stuff that made it all worthwhile: to be in absolute charge of 17,200 horsepower, to have gripped in your fists the whole might of science, of industry, of civilisation's mastery of the world ...

"We popped over the top of a little ridge and there was a Bedouin camp. I watched a boy about 9 or 10 years old come running out from one of the goat hair tents. We were so close I could see his expression - thrill and fear and awe and wonder combined. His whole life he'll remember the moment that sky-blackening, air-mauling, thunder-engined, steel firmament of war crossed his face. And I hope all his bellicose, fanatical, senseless, quarrel-mongering neighbours - from Tel Aviv to Khartoum, from Tripoli to Tehran - remember it too."

Obviously this was written in a fit of hubris before the US-led coalition packed up and went home, leaving Saddam Hussein diminished but intact and thereby setting the stage for the second, immensely more destructive Gulf War.

And with the benefit of hindsight it seems entirely possible that being buzzed by the infidel invader's warplane had the exact opposite effect and that, rather than becoming pro-Western or being cowed into life-long submission, that little Bedouin grew up to be a jihadist.

The most vocal critics of the agreement are those strange bedfellows Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Israel reckons the deal-makers, particularly the current occupant of the White House, are naive and lack backbone. Its representatives have resorted to comments along the lines of "don't come snivelling to us when a suitcase nuclear bomb goes off in Manhattan in five years".

It's probably worth pointing out that Israel is the only country in the region that has nuclear arms. The Jewish state is also the undisputed Middle Eastern champion of throwing your weight around.

The theocrats who run Saudi Arabia dislike the agreement almost as much as they dislike the prospect of women driving cars. That's because the Sunni Saudis and Shia Iranians are competing for regional influence and Muslim hearts and minds.

If nothing else, the agreement has created consensus where previously there was only discord. Not only have the Saudis and Israelis made common cause, in Washington DC the Republicans and Democrats, who normally can't find enough common ground to pitch a pup tent on, are talking of joining forces to impose new sanctions on Iran, which would probably scupper the agreement.

Senior Republican Eric Cantor says the agreement brings Iran "closer to being a nuclear power".

Meanwhile, in Tehran, Cantor's counterparts - that is, the most blinkered, reactionary elements in the Iranian Parliament - are equally opposed. One likened it to a poison chalice masquerading as a sweet drink, while lawmaker Ruhollah Hosseinian declared that it "practically tramples on Iran's enrichment rights".

Cantor and Hosseinian can't both be right. The likelihood is they're both wrong. The fact that both sides' hardliners oppose the agreement suggests it's probably a reasonable compromise.

And if the opponents baulk at adopting a slogan dreamed up by a couple of degenerate hippies during a "bed-in" in an Amsterdam hotel room, perhaps they might heed the words of the great war leader Winston Churchill: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

- NZ Herald

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