Iran in the Middle

PARIS – International negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program have been taking place, in one form or another, for more than a decade. So it is not surprising that the deadline for a final deal has been extended once again. Iran and its interlocutors – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) – now have until the end of June to reach an accord.

It is a dispiriting development, and it would be easy to say that the process seems doomed to fail. But there is reason for hope. In the ongoing round of negotiations, the two key players, Iran and the United States, have seemed willing – if not desperate – to bring the talks to a successful conclusion.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Barack Obama would both benefit from a deal. The sanctions imposed on Iran are starting to weigh heavily on its economy, and a settlement to the dispute is a prerequisite for any effort by the two countries to cooperate on a peace deal in Syria or to address the threat posed by the Islamic State.

Iran is just emerging from a three-year internal political struggle. The military and hardline mullahs, who believe that Iran should produce a nuclear weapon, faced off against the bulk of the business community and reformist mullahs, led by Rouhani and former President Mohammad Khatami, who believe that it should not. The outcome was uncertain – until Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated a fatwa banning nuclear weapons.