With all that has transpired since, namely the rise of the Islamic State and Russia’s pseudo-intervention in Ukraine, the nuclear negotiations have not received the general focus of the media for a good reason -- they’re boring. But the intent of these negotiations is to prevent the type of events that would generate a lot of media attention, like warfare between Iran and the United States/ Israel. As the negotiations resume, then, it is crucial to pay attention to the outcomes.
Mr. Rouani at the United Nations last year spoke that countries should “pursue exclusively peaceful purposes” with their nuclear programs and that “[Iran’s] national interests make it imperative that [it] remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program." Mr. Rouhani reiterated that stance this year, adding he remains “determined to continue negotiations with our interlocutors in earnest and good faith.” He continued by saying that a solution “can serve as the beginning of multilateral collaboration aimed at promoting security, peace and development in [the Middle East] and beyond.”
He is right that the negotiations can form a basis for cooperation, even though the extent of that is questionable for Mr. Rouhani’s fierce criticism of terror organizations is juxtaposed with the reality that his government actively funds several groups listed as such by the United States. There is certainly room for dialogue to defuse regional conflict, but first, the controversy over the nuclear program must be solved. Will it?
Mr. Rouhani seems to believe so. However, the last round of negotiations left the topic up in the air. Disagreements over things like the amount of centrifuges Iran may have, the fate of certain facilities (like Fordow, all but impregnable), and the extent/ length of the safeguards to be in place all have clogged up the initial optimism surrounding the interim agreement. The last talks expired in July, and the new round will go into late November -- and there is plenty of ground to be made up.
The fate of these negotiations could either lead to a big sigh of relief or a massive increase in tensions in an already crisis-ridden area. Echoing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Mr. Rouhani is adamant that his country will maintain a nuclear program. No diplomacy or airstrikes will take that away from Iran. The key is to make sure that it is a program everyone can live with. Problems like the Islamic State are certainly going to affect the region for some time to come, but the Iranian nuclear issue, and more broadly the West’s standoff in general with Iran, is one of perhaps greater significance.