Forward progress: An agreement is reached on more talks on Iran

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Three days of talks in Vienna this week between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany have advanced the effort to trade a bridle on Iran’s nuclear program for an easing of its economic sanctions.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, called the talks “a good start,” as did European Union Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, who led the high-level delegations from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The result was a framework for future negotiations, which includes an agenda of topics and a timetable for completion. The timetable agreed upon by the two sides in Geneva in November was completion of an accord in six months. The next meeting is scheduled for March 17 in Vienna.

Two major issues include the level of enrichment of uranium that Iran would be permitted and the establishment of strict oversight at its nuclear facilities by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Another is the relaxation of sanctions on Iran, the carrot to be extended in return for the curtailment of its nuclear program.

Some potholes still loom in the road ahead. U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel to Israel to brief its leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Washington next month to address lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and to meet with President Barack Obama.

Nonetheless, the Iran talks seem to be the most promising of the three Middle East efforts in which the United States is engaged, the other two being the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the talks to try to end Syria’s civil conflict. Agreement on a framework in Vienna is an important step toward achieving success on a problem that has stymied the United States for 35 years.

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