Despite outrage from Israel, loud complaints from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies, and bitter skepticism from members of Congress, it appears as if the United States and Iran, backed by the P5+1 world powers, are on the verge of an historic first step toward a deal over Iran’s nuclear program. That the interim accord wasn’t reached during the round of talks that concluded on Saturday doesn’t make that accord less likely, perhaps as soon as the talks resume later this month.
There were, it appears, a number of stumbling blocks that prevented the preliminary accord from being reached, including disagreements over how to finesse the dispute over Iran’s “right to enrich” under the Nonproliferation Treaty’s opaque language, what to do about Iran’s heavy water reactor now under construction in Arak, and how to handle the disposition of Iran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium at 20 percent purity.
But, the outlines of an accord have been clear for quite some time, only waiting for the United States and Iran to move forward, and according to The Wall Street Journal—in an important background piece by Jay Solomon and Carol Lee—the United States has been quietly talking to and meeting with Iranians for a long time to explore whether Tehran was amenable to talks.
It’s significant that not only Western media but Iranian newspapers and news agencies, too, are predicting an accord. Why is that important? Because the new government of President Hassan Rouhani has to prepare Iranian public opinion to expect a deal with the country that Iran has long referred to, sometimes half-seriously and sometimes not, as the “Great Satan.” A report by the usually hardline Fars News Agency says that the Geneva talks could be “the first confidence-building step towards ending over a decade-long nuclear standoff between Iran and the West.” And the Tehran Times, an English-language daily paper in Tehran, Iran’s capital, writes, “Negotiators from Iran and world powers were about to draft a nuclear agreement on Friday.” The Tehran Times continued to give the news from Geneva a positive spin since the talks were suspended on Saturday, positively quoting Secretary of State Kerry’s comments and trumpeting an agreement, in parallel talks, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over a “road map” on inspecting Iran’s facilities.
That agreement didn’t quite happen, of course, in part apparently because France—seeking to curry favor with Israel and the arms-purchasing big spenders of the gulf states—raised last-minute objections (drawing sharp criticism from Iran’s Supreme Leader) and in part because Iran’s negotiators wanted to run the details by the powers-that-be at home.