What Iran Wants

Last night on Charlie Rose, Iran experts Azar Nafisi, Hooman Majd and Vali Nasr discussed the current political state in Iran and its relationship with the US.  On the subject of possible negotiations between the two governments, they said that the Iranian regime wants the following things from the US:

-sanctions lifted

-the embargo lifted

-the release of Iranian assets frozen in American banks

-acknowledgement of Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy

-recognition of Iran as a regional power (one would assume that such recognition entails normalized diplomatic relations with the US, and inclusion in political discussions about Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)

           

The US will certainly want the following things from Iran:

-the abandonment of Iran’s nuclear program (which US officials believe is a nuclear weapons program)

-a discontinuation of Iran’s support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah

-an end to Iranian efforts to assist insurgents in Iraq and destabilize that country

 

Whether the US and Iran can reach an agreement on any of these issues if the two countries do in fact sit down for talks is uncertain.  It would largely depend on Iran’s willingness to abandon or at least freeze its nuclear program and put it under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection.  If Iran agreed to do that the Obama administration would likely be willing to lift economic sanctions, unfreeze Iranian assets and normalize relations if its recent overtures to North Korea are any indication of its position vis-à-vis Iran.

 

With regard to terrorism, sponsoring Hezbollah is the only way for Iran to project power in places like Lebanon and Israel-Palestine.  Iran might be willing to try to reign in Hezbollah while the Americans, Israelis, and Arabs try to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in exchange for significantly improved relations with the US, but it is less likely that the Iranians would be amenable to breaking off ties to the group altogether.  The situation is also complicated by the fact that it is unclear exactly how much influence the Iranians have over Hezbollah, which is firmly rooted in the political and social life of Lebanon, and whether Iran would be able to restrain the militants during or after peace negotiations.

 

Agreeing to talk to the Iranians about the situation in Iraq would not even be a concession for the US because the Obama administration needs to persuade the Iranians to play a constructive role in that area as American troops withdraw from Iraq.  Thus far, Iran has been a source of instability there and may still perceive that it has an interest in preventing Iraq from being a stable, united country given the history of conflict between the two nations, but that view might change if the issue of Iraq is made part of a larger deal with the US.

 

Hopefully, the US and Iran will be able to reach an agreement with regard to Iran’s nuclear program and other contentious topics.  There are difficult obstacles to overcome, but both sides’ overall interests could be served by negotiating a diplomatic settlement even if all the issues between the two states are not resolved.

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