Many stars have aligned to make this moment an opportune time to resolve two conflicts in the Middle East — the Syrian civil war and Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon. A new, more moderate faction is in power in Iran, led by President Hassan Rouhani, who has vowed to break the deadlock with the West over Iran,s nuclear program. Not only does Rouhani have the support of key figures within the regime, but more important, he has the backing of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
At the same time, a diplomatic settlement could materialize to end the war in Syria. Such a settlement would have to include Iran, and the outcome is likely to dispense with President Bashar al-Assad while preserving remnants of his Alawite-led regime. Key officials in the Obama administration have signaled they are willing to give Iran a role in the negotiations — something Tehran has demanded for many months. Iran views this scenario as advantageous: Even with Assad gone, Tehran would retain its footprint in Syria and its supply routes to Hezbollah, its key ally in Lebanon.
Iran could use Assad as a bargaining chip in nuclear negotiations and appear to be giving up a key weapon. Therefore, from Iran’s perspective, there are many benefits to negotiating now on the nuclear issue to try to get some of the U.S., U.N. and European Union sanctions lifted. Sanction relief is Rouhani’s top priority. Given that, Iran might agree to cap its uranium enrichment at lower levels than the current 20 percent and allow more transparency regarding its nuclear facilities and capability.
Another incentive for Iran’s leaders to make a deal is that they understand and have acknowledged their own society’s demands for sanction relief in order to improve the economy and end Iran’s isolation from the rest of the world. Khamenei, in particular, appears to have reached the realization that his survival and that of the regime depend on substantive political and economic reform.
To read the whole series of commentaries in Al Jazeera America, click here.
This commentary was first published in Al Jazeera America on September 24, 2013
Photo by AslanMedia via flickr