Opinion

The Great Debate

As Iran talks resume, it’s time to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal’

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif speak together during the third day of closed-door nuclear talks at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva

On Thursday, negotiators from the United States, Iran and five other world powers begin the final stretch of negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear agreement. A deal is within reach. But time is short.

With fewer than three months before the Nov. 24 deadline for an agreement, defining the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program remains the most significant gap. To bridge it, negotiators must move away from extreme positions toward more realistic ones.

There are several ways to square the circle and find a formula that meets the basic requirements of all parties. For Iran, the goal is a meaningful uranium-enrichment program. For the five permanent member of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — plus Germany, or P5+1,the goal is to limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and to monitor its activities to ensure that the time it would take Tehran to amass enough weapons-grade nuclear material to build a bomb is extended.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif addresses news conference following nuclear negotiations at UN in GenevaUnder the interim agreement reached last November, the parties agreed that Tehran could maintain an enrichment program based on its “practical needs.” Both sides base their positions on technical assessments of Iran’s needs yet strongly disagree on the amount of enriched uranium required to meet them. The problem here is essentially political.

Iran believes its practical needs include future fuel needs for nuclear reactors now in the planning stage. Russia supplies fuel for Iran’s sole operating nuclear power plant, Bushehr, and is under contract to do so through 2021. Tehran wants to build up its domestic capacity and reduce its reliance on the international market for enriched uranium fuel, a concern not unwarranted by Iran’s past experiences.

Iran’s future is now

Whether by design or accident, the nuclear deal struck in Geneva this past weekend is about far more than centrifuges, enrichment and breakout times.

Ultimately, the success of the nuclear negotiations will help determine who and what will define Iran for the next few decades.

Will Iran be defined by the confrontational and bombastic approach of its former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the conservatives around him? Or will it be defined by the more open and moderate approach of its current President Hassan Rouhani and his energetic and respected Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.

Rohani: A survivor in the snake pit of Tehran

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani at a during a news conference in Tehran June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Fars News/Majid Hagdos

Iran’s new president-elect Hassan Rohani is being praised as a “moderate” who might bring change to Iran and transform Tehran’s international relationships. ”What does he want?” is the question most analysts now ask, and, critically, “What can he achieve?”

The answer may be: a great deal. If he is given the right support — domestically and internationally.

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