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Can We Finally Tame Iran?

Can We Finally Tame Iran? (Photo: Hasan Tosun/Getty)

By John McLaughlin, OZY/ USA Today, 7 May 2015

We are fast approaching a crucial early turning point in this new century, one that historians will one day reference as the date when the U.S.'s relationship with the Middle East took a critical turn for better or for worse. The date is June 30, and the issue is Iran.

The question of Iran's nuclear power and the nations hoping to curtail it is, of course, familiar. Negotiations have been underway in one forum or another for more than a decade. What makes this moment unique is that nearly all of the world's great powers — the U.S., Russia, China, France, the U.K. and Germany (joined by a representative of the 28-member European Union) — have now united. They have made it as far as creating a "framework agreement," or a set of goals. If this leads to a final agreement, it could inject an element of stability into the most volatile region on earth. And it would represent the first progress we've seen in nuclear-reduction talks since President Obama signed an agreement with Russia five years ago.But the details have yet to be resolved (they will have to be by the June 30 deadline) — and, as anyone who's ever haggled in a Middle Eastern bazaar knows, devils dwell in details.

Before digging into them, let's take a step back and recall why Iran finally took a seat at the negotiating table, after years of foot dragging. The answer: economic sanctions that the international community has been tightening since 2006. These have slowly sapped Iran's economic strength, especially the toughest recent measures that cut Iran's oil earnings and blocked its use of the international banking system. The sanctions worked as sanctions are supposed to: They created hardships among the citizenry, which in turn fed into the 2013 election. That election brought to power moderate-sounding President Hassan Rouhani on a promise to lift the sanctions' burden from Iran's people.