Still talking: Iran’s nuclear program remains on the agenda

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Talks between Iran and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany over Iran’s nuclear program and economic sanctions in place against it continue. They will pick up again in Vienna later this month.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, when he began his assignment last year, engaged the United States in three sets of talks. The first were between the U.N. group, including China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States and Iran. They are still very much alive. The second were the Israeli-Palestinian talks over the future of Israel and a Palestinian state. They have since gone awry. The third were talks to seek to bring the Syrian civil war to an end. They, too, have dried up.

The Iranian talks continue and this session has been preceded by direct, bilateral talks between Iran and the United States in Geneva. There have also been direct talks between Iran and Russia in Rome. The U.S.-Iran relationship probably poses the most direct threat to success. The United States, to a degree fronting for Israel, has been most rigorous in demanding stand-downs and future restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran continues to maintain that its nuclear program is intended entirely for peaceful purposes, but there always has been reason to doubt its word on that subject, and strict observation by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors with a broad mandate will be required for any agreement to work.

Russia also has an important role to play. It has been involved in building Iran’s nuclear program, and the Iranians trust the Russians more than they do any other party to the talks.

The evolution of the U.S.-Iran relationship, in effect broken since 1979 by the ayatollahs’ ousting of the shah and the Iranian occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, is troubled on both sides by political ructions at home and conflict in the region. At the same time, both sides — including the United States — definitely have something to gain from an agreement, improving prospects for success in the negotiations.

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