By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
February 18, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have one thing in common: Both have voiced doubts that the talks starting today in Vienna will produce a deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
That’s only in part because negotiators need to hack through a thicket of technical and political issues to close the distance between the two sides’ opening positions. It’s also because some of the most important negotiations will be on the home fronts in Tehran and Washington.
Hardliners in Iran are pressing President Hassan Rouhani to reject dismantling any part of his country’s nuclear infrastructure. In the U.S. in a congressional election year, some lawmakers and lobbying groups — backed by American ally Israel — urge Obama to accept nothing less than elimination of virtually all Iranian nuclear activities, as well as intrusive inspections to ensure that the Islamic Republic can’t secretly develop a nuclear weapons capability.
The Obama administration has ambitious objectives for curtailing Iran’s program, and that’s “not merely for show,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran specialist at the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization. Given the pressure from Capitol Hill and Israel, sticking with a tough position is “what the traffic will bear in this town,” she said.
Obama has said publicly that the odds are no better than 50-50 that an interim accord now in effect will lead to a lasting agreement allowing Iran a limited nuclear enrichment program with sufficient safeguards to satisfy Israel, the U.S. and the world. Even so, Obama says diplomacy remains the best means to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
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