Iran, U.S. Have Shared Interest in Reaching Nuclear Deal

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Rohani (Photo by Reuters), and Obama (Photo by AFP).

The draft of a final agreement between Iran and the six powers on Tehran’s nuclear program is already ready. The remaining disagreements aren’t substantive and, according to the latest leaks, the United States will ultimately agree to let Iran operate some 6,000 of its new-model centrifuges, compared to Iran’s demand to operate 9,000.

Iran, for its part, is willing to reengineer its heavy-water facility in Arak so that it will produce less plutonium. It has also agreed to send at least half its enriched uranium to Russia and promised not to enrich beyond the five-percent level. On the issue of monitoring its nuclear facilities, Iran is prepared to accede to most of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s demands, and that may provide enough transparency to satisfy the six powers (the U.S., France, England, Germany, Russia and China).

“There’s currently no substantive reason to postpone signing the agreement on November 24,” a European diplomat familiar with the details of the negotiations told Haaretz on Monday. “None of the parties wants to postpone the signing, even if a few technical issues aren’t completely finalized.”

Washington is being more cautious. Its negotiating strategy to date has been that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and Western media outlets have quoted administration sources as putting the chances of a deal between 40 and 60 percent.

But in Iran, the mood is fairly optimistic. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Monday that the agreement was “making progress.” Ali Shamkhani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, hastened to stress that any agreement would have to include the removal of all sanctions on Iran.

Omani Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi, who visited Tehran on Sunday with a message from Washington, is already forecasting a thaw in relations between Iran and America, and also between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Oman, which hosted the last meeting between representatives of Iran and the six powers, has also hosted some 10 rounds of direct talks between Iranian and American officials over the last year.

But while the West is reporting on the concessions Iran has offered, it’s not yet clear exactly what Iran will receive in exchange, or how it will receive it. Will all sanctions be lifted immediately after the agreement is signed, or will they be removed gradually, contingent on the IAEA’s periodic reports? Will the agreement mark a turning point in diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran, as senior Iranian officials have predicted over the last two weeks, or will it be an “isolated” deal with no additional diplomatic ramifications?

These questions will be important both before and after the agreement is signed, if indeed it is. For the political minefields that Iranian President Hassan Rohani and U.S. President Barack Obama will have to navigate in their respective capitals are now even more explosive than Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Rohani doesn’t have to obtain the Iranian parliament’s approval of the agreement; all he needs is the approval of supreme leader Ali Khamenei. But precisely because the final responsibility rests on Khamenei’s shoulders, and the political and public criticism will be aimed at him rather than solely at Rohani, Khamenei will make sure to obtain the consent of the radical factions, which are liable to set additional conditions.

At the same time, it’s clear to both Khamenei and Rohani that the opportunity to make a deal may soon lapse due to the new constellation in the U.S. Congress, where the Republicans will soon have a majority in both houses, since the Republicans will try to thwart the agreement – and thereby to thwart Obama’s most important, and perhaps even only, diplomatic achievement.

Ironically, therefore, a shared political interest has been created between the Iranian and American leaders, in which each leader’s status in his own country depends on the other in a way that wasn’t true in the past.

For without an agreement, the euphoria that has sent the Iranian economy soaring over the last year, the public’s hope of emerging from an economic crisis that has been worsened by plunging oil prices, and the regime’s promises to get the economy back on its feet will all collapse in a way liable to shake the country. Moreover, an agreement would likely open doors for Iran in Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and give it a new status in the Middle East (and worldwide) as a country that it’s no longer unacceptable to have dealings with.

For Obama, who has been seeking ways to fight the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), an agreement would likely enable legitimate and vital cooperation with Iran in dealing with a regional threat whose focal point is no longer nuclearization, but Islamic extremism. If this indeed happens, Iran will be removed from the list of rogue states that it was put on due to that very same Islamic extremism and instead earn the status of a “rational country.”

From the Western standpoint, a rational Iran has a great deal to gain from an agreement. But as Israelis well know, diplomatic logic doesn’t always succeed in overcoming ideology.

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