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Quick Thoughts: Trita Parsi on the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations

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[The November 2013 Joint Plan of Action concluded between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United States, UK) in Geneva, committed the parties to concluding a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program by 20 July. Jadaliyya asked Trita Parsi, who has written and commented widely on these talks, for his assessment of where they stand]:

Jadaliyya (J): What are the main obstacles to Iran and the P5+1 meeting the July deadline for a comprehensive agreement?

Trita Parsi (TP): There are numerous issues that still divide the two sides. The most difficult one appears to be the size of the Iranian enrichment program. The United States wants to see a significant rollback of the program for a yet to be determined period, officially to prolong the time Iran would need to manufacture a nuclear weapon if it takes a decision to do so (what is termed “break out time”). The Iranians argue that they need the current centrifuges for their practical needs and can at best agree to freeze the growth of the program for a few years. For the Obama administration, it appears that a rollback is important in order for it to be able to sell the deal in Congress, more so than for solid technical grounds. Equally, the Iranian insistence on no rollback also appears to have political rather than technical roots.

(J): Do you expect this deadline to be met?

(TP): I still remain optimistic that they will reach a deal either by 20 July or after a short extension (six weeks rather than six months), for the simple reason that for the first time in thirty-five years, for both the United States and Iran, the political cost of failure is greater than the cost of success. In the past, it has always been the reverse. 

(J): Many people view these negotiations as essentially an Iranian-American dialogue, that will eventually address regional issues rather than only the nuclear and sanctions files. Do you agree?

(TP): It would be a shame and a failure if the negotiations end after the nuclear issue is resolved. US-Iran tensions are an important factor fueling regional instability. The two sides need to discuss regional issues, as well as other issues such as human rights. Hopefully, a nuclear deal will open the door for such a broad dialogue. 

(J): Do you think the recent deterioration in American-Russian relations will have an impact on these negotiations?

(TP): There appears to be a suspicion on the Iranian side that post-Ukraine, Russia is less eager to get a deal. And the way this manifests itself is, paradoxically, that in the last round of negotiations Russia took a harder position against Iran, making it more difficult for Tehran to agree to a deal. That way, some in Iran fear, Russia will succeed in avoiding a deal without being blamed for the failure. Whether it is really playing out like this remains to be seen.  

(J): Do you think the outcome of these negotiations will have an impact on the domestic balance of power within Iran? 


(TP): Yes, the outcome of these talks will determine the domestic political balance in Iran. It will determine who gets the upper hand between the various political camps. It will determine the future direction of Iran both in domestic and foreign policy. It's really not just about enrichment and centrifuges. It's about who will define the future Iran—the pragmatists and reformists, or the conservatives.

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