Baby Steps in Baghdad - Video

Everyone’s talking about the negotiations in Baghdad. After months of hostile rhetoric and rising tensions, Iran is coming to the table with the international community to try and find a resolution to the impasse over its nuclear program.

A nuclear-armed Iran would be a blow to stability in the Middle East. A consensus of bipartisan experts also agree that any military action against Iran would be both ineffective at preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb and could actually hasten its development. This difficult challenge of preventing a new war in the Middle East while convincing Iran to remain a non-nuclear state means that a political solution is the most viable path forward. These talks in Baghdad are the latest attempts to make such a solution possible, and are an important step in moving toward a lasting agreement.

It’s taken a lot of pressure to bring us to this moment. The international community has successfully cooperated to produce an extremely tough sanctions program and politically isolate the regime in Tehran. The resulting economic pain, combined with internal pressure and increasing international isolation, has motivated Iran to come to the table for the first substantive dialogue in years.

It looks like the negotiating process may bear fruit. Earlier this week, Iran concluded encouraging discussions with the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency (the IAEA), raising hopes for an agreement to allow the U.N. to inspect Iran’s facilities at Parchin and setting a positive stage for the P5+1 talks this week.

A similar positive negotiating atmosphere is reportedly present at Baghdad. Both sides have presented proposed packages for a nuclear deal. Although details have not yet been made public, and it is not clear what the outcome of these negotiations will be, it’s a good sign that specific ideas are on the table for discussion, moving the talks beyond political posturing into more substantive conversation on the issues. These talks will not be easy - diplomacy never is - but talking directly about the real issues is a significant step forward to achieving a productive outcome. 

“Expectations are guarded,” a western official told Laura Rozen of Al Monitor at the talks. “If we talk substantively on elements of a deal and agree to meet again in three weeks, Baghdad will have been a success.”

Of course, it’s far too soon to celebrate. Iran has long had a complicated relationship with the West, particularly the United States. And election-year politics in several key countries, including the US, could potentially make a deal much more difficult to reach. As many commentators have noted, it will take a great deal of commitment and creativity to move beyond talks to an actual solution.

As Reza Marashi of Ploughshares Fund grantee National Iranian American Council smartly argues on Huffington Post today:

There is only one way to break a 34-year-old deadlock: break the rules. America and Iran must talk to each other and trade compromises of equal value in order to break down the hostility and misperceptions that paralyze our relations. Only by taking risks for peace will leaders in Washington and Tehran have the necessary deliverables to beat back critics and spoilers. The three-decade long status quo has brought us to the precipice of war and economic catastrophe. Negotiation is difficult and time consuming, but in the end there is no other way to walk back from that precipice.