Nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West were an achievement in themselves. A deal will take longer

Just as those predicting immediate success were hasty, so are those calling defeat

Share

Hopes of an agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme were high, but it is little surprise that they have not been met. The immense difficulties facing the negotiations in Geneva faded into the background amid talk of a “historic deal” and an imminent end to decades of mutual suspicion and misunderstanding. Yet when discussions concluded at the weekend without a deal, the attempt was swiftly branded a failure.

There was, and remains, some cause for optimism. Since Hassan Rouhani took over the Iranian presidency from the bellicose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June, the rhetoric from Tehran has markedly softened. And with international sanctions biting hard on ordinary Iranians – inflation is running at 40 per cent, the economy has shrunk by more than 5 per cent, and the number of families below the poverty line has doubled to four in 10 – domestic pressure for a deal cannot be ignored. Meanwhile, for the international community, Israel’s threats of air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, not to mention the Islamic Republic’s pivotal position in an ever more unstable region, have also been focusing minds.

But both sides wanting to talk was never going to make reaching a mutually satisfactory conclusion any easier. Sure enough, even the personal participation of the US Secretary of State, who arrived in Switzerland on Friday, was not enough to reach a deal. What were always the two primary sticking points remain so. One is the question about the future of the heavy-water reactor being built at Arak. The other is what to do with Iran’s existing stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Tehran is determined to retain “rights to enrichment”; the international community, not unreasonably, remains sceptical.

Stalemate? Not quite. Just as those predicting immediate success were unduly hasty, so are those now calling defeat. John Kerry’s eight hours at the negotiating table are the longest high-level talks between the US and Iran since 1979 – no small achievement in itself. Equally, the Secretary of State’s assertion that “we are closer now than when we came” cannot simply be dismissed. With negotiations to restart in 10 days’ time – albeit between diplomats rather than foreign ministers – the process is far from over.

Now is a dangerous time. Barack Obama’s critics in Congress – fuelled by Israel’s inflammatory opposition to a deal – are already pushing for more sanctions. In Iran, the frustration of public demands for relief may undermine support for discussions that many feel infringe on national sovereignty. Apparent divisions in the international community, exemplified by France’s outspoken warnings about a “fool’s game” before the talks were concluded, will not help either.

Yet there is no constructive alternative to perseverance. Neither will a deal be struck without concessions from both sides. The notion of the Islamic Republic continuing with some degree of uranium enrichment may not be palatable; but it is allowed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and – in return for close controls and even closer oversight – it is a better option than either accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons or trying to bomb them out of existence.

The price is high; but so is the value of the prize. A deal is not only the only way to patch up one of the world’s most dangerous and intractable disputes. An accord between Iran and the West could also be key to any number of the issues bedevilling the Middle East, not least the conflict in Syria. It was never going to be easy. But it has not failed yet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

NVQ Assessor Level 2 & 3 Sport Development

£19200 - £26880 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: In NVQ Ass...

Secondary supply teachers required in Newmarket

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh  

Scottish independence: Forget Yes and No — what about a United Kingdom of Independent States?

Ben Judah
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week