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The Long Road to Agreement with Iran

MADRID – The latest round of negotiations in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) has inspired cautious optimism. A window of opportunity to reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear program appears to have opened. Although the details of the meeting are not public, its relative success is clear, as the parties are to reconvene on November 7-8.

Rapprochement between Iran and the West – above all between Iran and the United States – would have positive geostrategic consequences across the Middle East. Iran has a long way to go, of course, to bring about permanent improvement in its relations with the West; but what Iran needs to do is not the only impediment. Other strategic actors must also be taken into account.

Without a doubt, Israel will be a major obstacle to reaching an agreement. At the very moment when negotiations were beginning in Geneva, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) that the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could not yet be ruled out.

Netanyahu has made Iran’s nuclear program his highest foreign-policy priority. He is suspicious of Iran’s intentions and wants its nuclear power plants to be completely dismantled. The fear is that so long as Iran maintains residual nuclear capacity – even for civilian use – it could develop atomic arms that would threaten Israel. As Netanyahu made clear at the United Nations General Assembly on October 1, Israeli officials do not trust Iran’s new government to change course.