Optimism on Nuclear Deal Growing

Optimism on Nuclear Deal Growing  Optimism on Nuclear Deal Growing

The US administration assesses that the odds of reaching an Iran nuclear deal have increased in recent days, after apparently significant progress made in recent talks, experts briefed by the administration say.

"It is clear that an agreement is within reach, [that] many of the differences have been resolved," Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, told Al-Monitor on Friday.

"If we get a deal that is close to the terms the administration has set out, and I believe we will, it is going to be a very good deal," Cirincione said. "One that will surprise and please even many of the critics."

Progress was made at talks between US and Iran negotiators held in Munich from February 6-8, experts briefed by the administration deduced. The uptick in administration optimism about a deal suggests that there has been progress, possibly a breakthrough, on the enrichment capacity issue, among other factors.

US negotiators had previously presented Iran negotiators with a few different ways an acceptable enrichment capacity could be achieved in a final deal that would meet Washington's requirements for a minimum one year "breakout"—the amount of time it would hypothetically take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a bomb, Al Monitor previously reported.

Iran denies its nuclear work may have any military objectives, saying the program is solely for peaceful purposes, including power generation.  From the US perspective, prospects for reaching a deal in the near term largely hinges on whether the Iranians would agree to work with one of the proposed formulas.

  Positive Signals

The US also assesses that Leader of the Islamic Revolution  Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei's recent remarks that he would be willing to accept a good deal to be mostly positive, experts briefed by US administration officials said.

They also see as a good sign that top US and Iran leaders have publicly asserted the shared conviction that another extension is not an option, and if they are to get a deal, they need to get it done in the current timeframe.

The Munich "meeting itself coincided with the decision in both the US and Iran that they needed to get this deal, and could get this deal, and that an extension is not an option," Cirincione said.

"They are a few items away from an agreement [that would] substantially limit Iran's enrichment capability, plutonium production capability…," Cirincione said, adding that the key outstanding issue now is sanctions relief, and how to phase it in. "But we are getting there."

Signals from Tehran also suggest that Iranian officials believe that a nuclear deal could be worked out, Al-Monitor commented.

"I want to say that first of all, I consent to an agreement that is workable," Ayatollah Khamenei told Iranian Air Force commanders in a speech on February 8. "Of course, I do not mean a bad agreement."

If Iran's negotiators "make a good agreement, it is fine by us," the Leader said. "I myself agree with that and I am sure that the people of Iran are not opposed to an agreement which preserves their dignity, respect and interests."

Tehran Friday prayer leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, praised Iran's nuclear negotiators as "children of the nation" at prayers in Tehran on February 13, and warned opponents against criticizing nuclear negotiations that have been endorsed by the Leader.