Talks on Iran's nuclear program and the economic sanctions against it occupied three busy days in Geneva last week for the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council including the United States, plus Germany, the European Union and Iran itself.
At the end of the intense session, Iran indicated that it could not proceed further with the commitments it was being asked to make without returning to Tehran for consultations. The political flack that U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has encountered since the meeting, particularly from some members of Congress and from some of Israel's leaders, indicates divisions on the international side of the negotiations that would also benefit from more discussion at home.
As of now, talks are scheduled to resume on Nov. 20. It is difficult to say what the prospects are for a successful conclusion, with Iran having agreed to curtail its nuclear program and the relevant members of the international community having agreed to relax the economic sanctions to a degree, based on Iran's fulfillment of its pledges and strict inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In the meantime, Saudi Arabia, which is opposed Iran's nuclear program as well as to the talks, has announced a program of its own to build nuclear energy plants, touching off questions about its own intentions.
Prospects for success at last week's Geneva meeting had been hyped in advance by the media but also by the Iranians themselves, perhaps as a way to stampede the negotiating partners into concessions. But no one should expect the estrangement between Iran and the West that has been in effect since 1979 to be healed in three days. What is important is that intensive talks have begun and will continue, with a sustainable resolution of the problems being addressed in sight.
Equally important on the American side is that no one take, for political or other reasons, any steps to tie Mr. Kerry's hands as he works for an agreement that will have critical strategic and economic implications for the United States.