If you go to a learned journal like Foreign Policy for insight into the West’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, you’ll find oil at center-stage:
— Iran’s interest in escaping sanctions, especially on oil, that have devastated its economy and increased internal political unrest
— the West’s interest in Iranian oil for moderating prices, stabilizing supplies, further diversifying the world energy market, and minimizing over-dependence on single sources (especially Russia)
— America’s confidence that its own vastly increased oil production would make it difficult for Iran to use oil as political leverage on it or on any of its allies
All sound, reasonable, and persuasive. Indeed, a strategic commodity was vital to the framework agreement with Iran. However, the commodity (at least as the Iranians saw it) was not oil, it was …
You may be dubious, but I can explain:
Before sanctions, pistachios were one of Iran’s most lucrative exports, and America their biggest external market. Sanctions hit Iranian pistachio exports hard; production shrank and the economy suffered; rising internal pistachio prices, made worse by sanctions-induced inflation, multiplied the economic pain and became a political flashpoint.
American pistachio growers, almost all of them in California, took advantage of the sanctions, filled the void, and profited further from an expanding American market.
But drought in California has changed the situation, putting pressure on the agricultural sector, especially those, like pistachio growers, perceived to use an inordinate amount of water to produce a mere snack.
Astute Iranians saw an opening, reasoning that: (1) Climate change, including California drought, is real, but America is unwilling to face it; (2) California pistachio production will decline and prices will rise, so we can undersell them in a lucrative market; (3) The revival of our production will, incidentally, lower the internal price of pistachios and remove a major political irritant.
Iran’s savvy negotiators pretended their oil, in whose resumed flow they knew the West had an interest, was the driving force. They were confident that, even if European and American negotiators knew the real reason, they would laugh at its apparent insignificance.
Still, Iranian negotiators’ need for secrecy was urgent. They saw what their Western counterparts were blind to — that there is a hard-line faction in America that would never allow an Iranian nuclear deal to go through, but that faction is not the Congressional Republicans the Western negotiators dreaded.
Rather, it is California farmers, for whom solidarity in the face of a water disaster extends even to pistachios.
The Iranians also knew that Americans, who could not tolerate their BLT’s without California L, or their citrus fix without California O, would not risk alienating a united California agricultural front.
You may wonder why I — one who fears a nuclear Iran — would try to blow the negotiations up. I can’t live with the thought that the Iranians, once they cornered the market, would drive prices through the roof. Have you ever tasted a pistachio? Do you remember the Arab oil embargo? Does waiting in line, outside the supermarket, at midnight, in the rain, just to fill up your shopping bag with those addictive little sons-of-bitches appeal to you? I’d choose a nuclear Iran over a day without my fix. I’m with the woman on the right.