Although there was a great of deal hope a year ago that a deal on Iran’s nuclear program could be reached and Western relations normalized with the rogue state thanks to the rise of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, a deal is likely not possible at this time. Given this reality, the options are limited to extending the deadline again for a deal or breaking off negotiations. Even though a nuclear deal is important and any military option used to address a nuclear Iran would fall short, a break may well be necessary.
With the International Atomic Energy Agency encountering a lack of cooperation on behalf of Iran in regards to several areas of research that hint at the pursuit of a nuclear weapon, despite Iran’s insistence to the contrary, there is clearly strong enough reasons to justify the US breaking off negotiations with Iran. If negotiations were steadily making progress, Iran’s reluctance to reveal state secrets could be overlooked, but they are not.
Given the IAEA is offering the US and the rest of the West an “out” before negotiations turn thoroughly sour, the more prudent course is likely ending talks if a solution is not near by the November 24th deadline. That said, it is important to recognize Iran is struggling with internal political shifts, during a time when the Iran and the US are intertwined in the conflict against the Islamic State as well as other matters in the Middle East.
Far more moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power as a result of stewing civil discontent and international pressure, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, who may well be out of the picture if he dies soon, is still ultimately in control of Iran’s policies. This means Rouhani’s survival as a political leader depends on his ability to produce results that the Supreme Leader can accept and that hinges on his ability to find solutions the outside world can also accept.
Failed negotiations with Iran could, therefore, result in the West losing one of its few friends in Tehran. On the other hand, drawing out the process will only exasperate the frustrations Khamenei and other hardliner conservatives are already feeling. Instead of allowing a nuclear deal to be framed as a Western ploy to tease Iran, it would be better to frame the failure of the negotiations as a failure of Iranian conservatives who are unwilling to compromise.
Allowing sanctions against Iran to go back into affect while offering Tehran a second chance at negotiations in a few months would serve as a powerful reminder of what benefits Iran can expect from a nuclear deal. If it is done now and done in a way that avoids insulting Iranian leadership, leaving the door open for a reboot of Iranian nuclear negotiations could lead to a viable deal. It would also help avoid renewed conflict between Iran and the US when the Middle East needs some level of cooperation, even if it is just the pursuit of a common goal instead of competing over influence in Iraq.
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