Every year, the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) puts together a shortlist to predict the winners of the annual Nobel Peace Prize. This year, Iran nuclear dealmakers Federica Mogherini and Mohammad Javad Zarif are at the top of the list. Also among the top five, for two years in a row, are the humanitarian group the White Helmets, and their leader Raed al Saleh.
The White Helmets
Who are the White Helmets?
The White Helmets are an unarmed, neutral organization of over 3,000 civilians working in Syria. When airstrikes rain down on rebel-held Syria, the men and women of the White Helmets carry out search-and-rescue operations to save as many lives as possible. As former blacksmith and current member of the White Helmets, Abu Omar, explains in the Oscar-winning 2016 Netflix documentary The White Helmets, “Any human being, no matter who they are or which side they’re on, if they need our help…it’s our duty to save them.”
Unfortunately, with dozens of bombs landing in neighborhoods throughout Syria each day of the ongoing Syrian Civil War (which began in March of 2011), finding dead bodies is a harsh reality of the job. In these tragic cases, they help notify families and bury bodies. When possible, the While Helmets head to Turkey to be trained by AKUT, a voluntary, non-governmental organization involved in search-and-rescue efforts after natural disasters. At these trainings, the White Helmets receive life-saving instructions and exposure to new equipment. Then they return to Syria and their daily mission of responding to barrel bomb and missile strikes, and digging for survivors using tools and their bare hands.
Also known as the Syria Civil Defence, their nickname comes from the color of their protective hard hats. Under the direction of their current leader, Raed al Saleh, a former electronics trader, these ordinary citizens do extraordinary work. In their past lives, the White Helmets were bakers, tailors, engineers, pharmacists, painters, carpenters, and student volunteers.
Since they were formed in 2013, the White Helmets say they have saved over 90,000 lives.
As the White Helmets have gained international recognition, the attacks on them and their centers have grown. More than 200 White Helmets have been killed in the conflict.
Notable rescues by the White Helmets
In 2014, member Khaled Omar saved a 10-day-old baby boy that was stuck under rubble for 16 hours. Dubbed “the miracle baby,” this astounding event was a rare ray of hope three years into the bloody civil war in Syria. The video of Omar’s rescue of “the miracle baby” garnered over 250,000 views on YouTube and helped put the group in the spotlight. Khaled Omar died in an airstrike in 2016.
The group gained further notoriety for rescuing Omran Daqneesh, a boy who lives in rebel-held Aleppo. The photo of this bloodied child went viral for his empty stare in the aftermath of an airstrike. Daqneesh’s father, a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, later criticized rebel groups in Aleppo and the White Helmets for using his son as propaganda.
Iran Nuclear Deal
The second group considered top contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize are the senior negotiators of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.
How the Iran Nuclear Deal was born
While it took almost two years to negotiate, the Iran Nuclear deal was decades in the making. Around 2002, an International Atomic Energy Agency inspection proved Iran had developed nuclear facilities. The United Nations took action (followed by the U.S. and the EU), imposing economic sanctions on financial transactions and the sale of oil and weapons. The sanctions hit Iran hard and since Iran is one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil, oil prices around the globe were impacted.
Iran wanted the sanctions lifted, while the United States wanted to limit Iran’s nuclear program. Twelve years later an eight-member committee consisting of Iran, China, France, Russia, Germany, the U.K., the European Union and the United States, hammered out the following agreement: The EU and the U.S. would lift their nuclear-related financial and economic sanctions and Iran would limit their nuclear production, only enriching uranium for peaceful purposes like maintaining a civilian nuclear power plant.
Iran nuclear dealmakers Federica Mogherini and Mohammad Javad Zarif announced the Iran Nuclear Deal in Vienna on July 14, 2015. Prior to this deal, Iran and the United States had not enjoyed diplomatic relations since the Iran hostage crisis of 1979.
The goal was loftier than just preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons. The negotiators believed this was an important step to soothing tensions in the always-volatile Middle East.
Who were the chief Iran nuclear dealmakers?
Federica Mogherini is a top European Union diplomat and Mohammad Javad Zarif is the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mogherini and Zarif were two of the senior negotiators who worked tirelessly on getting the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated, signed and enacted.
Mogherini was known as the chief negotiator behind the deal. In 2014, she became the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stepping into a role as the neutral facilitator between Iran and a group of six other countries, including the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany (known as the P5+1). She successfully concluded the negotiations that her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, had started in 2013.
Zarif was appointed by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. He was tasked with resuming nuclear talks and ending the crippling sanctions against his country. In order to accomplish this goal, he had to warm up relations that had gone sour decades ago. Gaining a reputation as charming, smart, and articulate, it didn’t take long for Zarif to connect with then-United States Secretary of State John Kerry. While at times they were very much at odds in heated discussions, both men have been said to have mutual respect and admiration for one another.
The speculation that former United States Secretary of State John Kerry will not share the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize if the dealmakers receive top honors is not seen as a slight to his contributions. Instead, it is seen as a direct message to President Trump, who has publically criticized the deal, calling it “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.” The message? Tread lightly: this plan has widespread international support.
Specifics of the Iran Nuclear Deal
Iran maintained its ability to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. They agreed to cut the number of centrifuges they possessed down from 20,000 to 6,000, and to use older models. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, which is then used to power nuclear power plants and build weapons.
The key to whether uranium is used for progress or weapons is the level of enrichment. For the 15-year length of the deal, Iran agreed to refine uranium to no more than 3.7 percent enrichment, the amount needed to power a nuclear plant. They also pledged to limit their enriched-uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms and eliminate their stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which nuclear experts feared could be quickly purified and used as a weapon.
In addition, they agreed to convert the controversial Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) into a research facility. They will also rebuild the Arak heavy-water reactor in accordance with a design approved by the international community that makes it impossible for the site to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
In return, the European Union lifted all of its nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, allowed for the opening of branches of Iranian banks in EU member states, and agreed to support EU trade with Iran. The United States also lifted nuclear-related sanctions, allowing Iranian banks to do business and removing its ban on transactions made with Iranian currency.
The International Atomic Energy Agency was granted 24/7 access to Iranian facilities to conduct comprehensive inspections, and if Iran doesn’t comply with their end of the bargain, the sanctions will be reinforced.
Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal
While it is unclear what will happen when the deal expires in 2030, former President Obama believed the United States, and the world, would have much better insight into Iran’s nuclear program and their capabilities. This will allow world leaders to take action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in the future.