Grand Bargaining with Iran

STOCKHOLM – Slowly but surely, Iran’s talks with the international community about its nuclear program are approaching the make-or-break point. But, more important, the outcome could mark a turning point for the wider – and increasingly volatile – Middle East.

The rapprochement between Iran and its negotiating partners on the core nuclear issue is obvious. No one at this point seriously believes that Iran is maintaining an active program to develop nuclear weapons, though not long ago it was almost conventional wisdom that the country was close to having them.

Now the focus is on ensuring that Iran would need a year or so to assemble a nuclear device if it ever decided to do so. But the concept of “breakout time” is dubious. If trust were to collapse, and the Iranian regime decided to abrogate all of the relevant international agreements, it is highly likely that it would get its weapon, even if the country itself was bombed repeatedly. The strategic emphasis on “breakout time” is thus misplaced.

The key to progress is to help turn Iran from a cause into a country, to paraphrase Henry Kissinger. Iran needs to focus on developing all of its human and material resources to become part of a region moving from confrontation to cooperation. The deal on the core nuclear issues is central to this approach, but so is a credible process for developing the trade and investment links that will facilitate Iran’s move from isolation to integration.