For the first time in many years, Iranian leaders are declaring that they are ready to make a deal with the United States on the nuclear issue, leading some skeptics to question whether Tehran is serious this time or merely orchestrating a publicity blitz for newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani. Although it is never wise to take Iran’s gestures at face value, several developments suggest a potentially unprecedented opportunity for diplomacy with Iran. Conciliatory statements from Iran’s top leadership, including the Supreme Leader, combined with the nuclear portfolio’s transfer from the defense establishment to the foreign ministry could signal a strategic shift in Iran.
This time there is one more important reason to take Iran’s leaders seriously and include them in any negotiations aimed at seeking a political settlement to the Syrian conflict: Tehran appears willing to dispense eventually of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in exchange for some relief on the crippling U.S., EU, and U.N. sanctions. Tehran is signaling a willingness to jettison Assad — who it now increasingly sees as a liability. By using Assad as a bargaining chip, the Iranians believe they will be under less pressure to make tortuous concessions on the nuclear program, such as capping enrichment at low percentages, because they would appear to have surrendered another one of their powerful weapons instead — the Syrian leader.
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This op-ed was first published in Foreign Policy on September 23, 2013
Photo by http://www.rouhani.ir/