The first round of talks between Iran and the P5+1—China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.S. and the U.K.—in Geneva earlier this week ended on an upbeat note, with the concluding joint statement noting that the meeting had been conducted in a “positive atmosphere. A U.S. official was quoted as saying, “We really are beginning that type of negotiation where one could imagine that you could possibly have an agreement.” Having received the Iranian proposals, the negotiators are returning to consult with their respective governments and will reassemble in early November to assess the proposals submitted by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, particularly Iran’s offer to place defined limits on its nuclear aspirations in return for recognition of its rights to enrich uranium and for a lifting of economic sanctions.
Certainly, the change in government in Tehran, marked not simply by a change in tone but also a willingness to make concrete and detailed proposals to address Western concerns, has made this set of sessions much more productive than previous meetings during the Ahmadinejad administration. Having Zarif and his deputy, Abbasa Araqchi, both fluent English speakers, engaged in the talks has also allowed for direct exchanges, which facilitated the more rapid pace of the latest round in Geneva. On the other hand, what Iran has proposed as the basis for a settlement is not particularly new or groundbreaking. The emerging deal put on the table by Zarif is one that has been circulating for years. Why, then, are the chances for success now so much higher? And why are U.S. officials expressing guarded optimism that a deal could be within reach?
There are several reasons.