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A Reasonable Iran?

Author: Fred Kaplan
October 17, 2013


Readers glancing away from the debt ceiling showdown may have noticed the hopeful headlines on some other unlikely negotiations in Geneva over the fate of Iran's nuclear program. Two points are missing from most of the stories about these talks. First, the chances for a truly historic breakthrough are pretty good—which, at this stage in talks of such magnitude, is astonishing. Second, the Iranians' main demands—at least what we know of them—are pretty reasonable.

Toward the end of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's ground-shaking trip to New York last month, it was announced that his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, would meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva with delegates from the P5+1 states—the five nuclear powers (the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain) plus Germany—with the goal of finishing an accord within a year.

Many saw this timetable as way too ambitious, and given how talks of this sort typically proceed, it was. But these talks—the first round anyway—turned out to be far from typical. Rather than recite boilerplate principles and opening gambits, Zarif presented an hourlong PowerPoint briefing—in English, so there would be no misunderstandings—laying out a path for negotiations and a description of a possible settlement, replete with technical detail.

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