With a self-imposed deadline of July 20 to conclude a final agreement, the P5+1 and Iran meet once again this week in Vienna in the latest round of their negotiations toward an accord that would resolve the long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. All sides, it appears, are optimistic—and perhaps the best indication that things are going well is that those opposed to deal, including hardliners in Iran, hawks in the United States, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are all worried.
Make no mistake: if a deal is reached, it will be the signature foreign policy accomplishment of President Obama’s presidency. The result of a deal will be a vast improvement in US-Iran relations, with consequences for the entire Middle East, including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. It would provide a touchstone for better US-Russia relations, critically important in the midst of the Ukraine crisis. It would remove the threat of war in the Persian Gulf. And much more, including creating new opportunities to shift Israel’s focus from Iran back to where it belongs, namely, on Israeli-Arab relations and a deal over Palestine.
To prepare regional opponents of the Iran deal for what’s likely to emerge, last week Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, visited Israel to brief the government there, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's visit this week to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel > on the same mission will include key talks with Saudi Arabian officials and the rest of the Persian Gulf states, who fear that a US-Iran rapprochement would occur at their expense.
Gary Sick, a professor at Columbia University who served as President Jimmy Carter’s adviser on Iran, writes in The Iran Primer that the United States is simultaneously conducting four separate dialogues: with Iran, with its P5+1 allies, with Congress and with those obstreperous regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Last week, in New York, there was a quiet round of technical talks among the parties in advance of this week’s meeting in Vienna, and, as The Guardian reported last week, the talks are getting close to the “tipping point.” Says the paper: “There is growing optimism that the huge, sprawling compromises required, considered fanciful not long ago, are perhaps within reach.” Reportedly, the parties are now actually writing the language of the final accord, though nothing is yet agreed, and much of the remaining work to be done is very technical, involving exactly how to create limits on Iran’s program acceptable to the P5+1 yet something that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif can sell back at home. Among the key issues to be resolved is how to reduce and gradually eliminate economic sanctions on Iran, step by step, in parallel with steps taken by Iran to scale back its program and increase transparency.