Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addreses parliament after his swearing-in. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
President Obama has a chance, now that Russia has rescued him from the impending debacle in Syria, to pull off a deal with Iran’s new, reasonable leadership.
Indeed, things are looking so positive for US-Iran relations that it’s hard to imagine how even the amateurs in the White House could screw this one up. Next week, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani—a moderate cleric whose surprise win in the June elections stunned observers—and his equally moderate, diplomacy-minded foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will be in New York to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Rouhani and Zarif will be meeting with the leaders of Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany, it appears, though not—yet—with either Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. (We’ll see, though the White House is throwing cold water on the idea.) But Obama and Rouhani have exchanged letters, contents unknown, and conditions seem ripe for useful, behind-the-scenes talks between the two countries aimed at settling the nuclear dispute, at the very least.
According to Der Spiegel, Rouhani—who has shaken up Iran’s nuclear team and put the foreign ministry, not Iran’s national security council, in charge of the negotiations—may be planning a surprise series of concessions aimed at kick-starting the talks. The German magazine reports:
But the long-smoldering nuclear dispute with Tehran may be about to take a sensational turn. SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country’s central bank to do international business again.
Spiegel reports that Zarif will meet with the European Union’s chief negotiator, Catherine Ashton, to outline Rouhani’s proposal. There are, of course, plenty of skeptics about the likelihood of a deal, and in any case reaching a real accord will take many meetings and many months. Still, things are looking up.