Finally, there is a diplomatic opening that, if it succeeds, could make the volatile Middle East region more stable and avoid nuclear proliferation.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met on Thursday with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javan Zarif, and with the foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
This marks one of the highest level U.S.-Iran face-to-face discussions since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. We should know within weeks whether the "cautious optimism" expressed all around goes anywhere. This opening provides the best opportunity in the last 34 years to move forward on a host of vexing issues, and the United States is right to pursue talks.
What has changed the landscape?
Election of Iran's new president: Hassan Rouhani was Iran's nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005 when it suspended its nuclear program. In New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting, Rouhani told the Washington Post's David Ignatius he wants to move quickly to get the nuclear issue settled and move to other issues.
In Iran, however, Ali Hosseini Khamenei is the Supreme Leader. Rouhani told CNN's Christiane Amanpour he has Khamenei's full backing: "The supreme leader, I can tell you, has given permission for my government to freely negotiate on these issues."
Sanctions: These are costing Iran $5 billion a month in lost revenue, according to the U.S. Treasury. Iran wants to deal.
Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria: Current events have weakened Iran's ties to the militant Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas groups, a persistent source of terror attacks. That provides an opening for shaking up things for the better in the Middle East.
The United States and the five other powers provided an outline for a nuclear deal in February: Iran would limit enrichment of uranium to lower than 5%, the level needed for energy production; halt production of 20% enriched uranium; close the facility where that work is done; and, ship that stockpile out of the country. In return, Iran would get relief on sanctions.
And, as President Barack Obama said on Tuesday, "To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."
The meetings this week will test whether a U.S.-Iran rapprochement is possible.
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