The secretive Iranian-U.S. nuclear talks, which wrapped up Tuesday, reveal how much each side has to win, and lose, from their success.
The first direct talks between the two countries, outside of the P5+1 process, since the 1980s, are incredibly important for both sides. And time is running out for converting November’s temporary deal into a permanent agreement: July 20.
Iran has always been good at procrastinating and biding its time, and both the U.S. and Iran have already mooted the idea of a six-month extension. It appears Tehran has been waiting until it has the best hand of cards, and this meeting with the U.S. comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Turkey to strengthen bilateral ties. It also came after a visit of the Kuwaiti emir to Iran, and as ties with Oman and Qatar have strengthened. All of these relationships seek, in part, to belittle Saudi Arabia’s role in the region.
For Iran, with a population increasingly suffering under the weight of the sanctions program, any breakthrough could represent an easing of the sanctions. Europe has already indicated that it might be supportive of a gradual loosening of the sanctions, but the U.S. might be harder to convince.
President Barack Obama is under pressure from Congress, and many hawks are openly against any rapprochement with Tehran. He will be keen for his administration to reach any deal as soon as possible, and preferably before November’s midterms. But it seems unlikely that he will get any guarantees that Iran will no longer be capable of building an atomic bomb, before then.
Until more details of the talks are made public, and under the pressure of a timeframe, it seems both countries may be at a stalemate.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2014, on page 7.