If President Rouhani’s Davos speech is anything to go by, there is much reason for optimism regarding the possibility of a rapprochement between Iran and the rest of the world.
While he presented no new compromises, he re-affirmed his intention to follow through with the conditions asked of Iran by the P5+1 states, and emphasised his willingness to be flexible (to an extent, at least).
What, though, should we make of this? Are we actually going to witness an about turn for US-Iran relations and, if we do, how will it come about? Last week at Chatham House, these questions and more were addressed by Sir Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to the Islamic Republic. I went along to find out what his take on things was.
More than anything else, he appeared hopeful, citing that tangible progress had been made to date. He’s not wrong – since the interim agreement was signed, Iran’s nuclear program has all but frozen and, particularly important, enrichment of uranium to 20% has been halted completely.
On the other side of the coin, there has been some sanctions relief, albeit limited. Whatever the case, according to Sir Richard Dalton, “Iran has delivered and so has the European Union and the United States”; we have much to commend all parties involved for.
Sir Richard Dalton was quick as any to warn that all was not plain sailing and what he had to say about the obstacles that might be faced was telling.
More troubling than the danger of Khamenei choosing to clip Rouhani’s wings before a lasting peace is established, the “greatest worry” is the “power of money in American politics”, a direct reference to the almighty clout of the Israel lobby, something which has the potential to hobble the entire process.
Clearly a touchy subject, as a cartoonist at The Economist found out last week, it was refreshing to hear a former FCO powerhouse explicitly state that this was a reality, not a conjecture.
So, while negotiating successfully will be “difficult but possible”, at least there is a way ahead at all. The interim agreement has changed the state of play infinitely for the better and is a solid foundation from which all can move forward.
If, as it seems may be the case, the road towards a more peaceful, stable Middle East region does lie “through the solving of the nuclear question", these next few months could define geopolitics in the region for many, many years to come.
Sir Richard Dalton was sixty-forty in favour of success for the negotiations. Let’s just hope his optimism is not misplaced.