On January 21 Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term, while in
One thing, however, is certain. Over the next two years Obama will have to make a fateful decision on whether to go to war with
What is equally certain is that
In the past few weeks, there has been a mild increase in optimism about the chances for a successful negotiation on
Thanks to the sanctions imposed on
Also on the plus side, the potential nuclear threat from
In the final TV debate before his re-election, President Obama said that there was a deal to be done with
So is the conundrum becoming easier to resolve politically? In theory, yes.
Crucially, politicians on both sides may be coming round to ideas put forward for many years by experts about a phased deal.
* recognition of its right to enrich uranium
* nuclear co-operation with the IAEA and other countries;
* the progressive lifting of nuclear-related and other trade sanctions;
* immunity if
* a pathway to reducing regional tensions, with an end to concerns that the US is seeking regime change.
* limiting uranium enrichment, in grade and quantity, and accepting intrusive inspections of its programmes;
* enabling the IAEA to state that its declarations of nuclear material are correct, proving that
* transparency to the IAEA on past military research and development;
* agreement to sit down with the US and stay open to dialogue, including on regional disputes.
For real progress to be made, however, bad habits, ingrained on both sides, have to be overcome.
First, distrust: this has fixed the negotiators in rigid positions. Tiny offers, when rejected, confirm the perception that the other is not serious. Ayatollah Khamenei,
Second, overbidding: this is the tendency to propose ideal solutions while letting acceptable ones die from lack of effort.
Ambiguous policies in the West and
The failure of the Six to project unity around a single set of detailed negotiating objectives has also not helped. Sensibly,
That leads to another obstacle, the unwillingness to empower the envoys. Iranian diplomats can be out-flanked by officials and politicians at home who cry betrayal of the revolution; and the cum-bersome mechanisms, electoral considerations and
Finally, neither side has given due weight to the security concerns of the other.
There is nothing immutable about these habits. After all, in a rational world, each side would alter its approach. While striving for total victory, each has seen its strategic objective recede. The Six have watched
There is no single key to making a complex, difficult new round of negotiations work for all -- but bold and patient leadership in an endeavour that goes beyond the limits fixed so far by both sides would be a step in the right direction.
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(c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.