By Karl Reiner
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany reached a preliminary agreement on November 23 in Geneva. Iran will curb its nuclear program for six months in exchange for the dropping of some sanctions. Secretary of State Kerry and Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif have worked to put things on a new course, attempting to end 34 years of mutual hostility. Events have been helped along by Iran's President Rouhani, a regime insider experienced in security and diplomacy. A pragmatic conservative, he considers engagement important to the survival of the Islamic Republic. Rouhani has gained the support of the reformists who want to break Iran's isolation. With the people in charge in Washington and Tehran interested in moving forward, the talks have a chance of succeeding.
It will not be easy because Iran is an Islamic theocracy, dominated by clerics who watch over the functions of the state. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, does not necessarily agree with the reformists, but has been forced by sanctions to negotiate. Ayatollah Khamenei comes from the hardline right, all aspects of the country's ideological and political life ultimately come under his control. Rouhani, a trusted member of his inner circle, has his backing. Because Khamenei supports the negotiation effort, the response from the Revolutionary Guards and other hardline groups has been muted. The official line being coordinated by the supreme leader's office says that sanctions didn't force the talks. Iran has seen signs that the U.S. is changing its hostile policies and Iran is responding.