A Bet on Iran

Iran has agreed to international control over its nuclear program in exchange for the U.N. and the West lifting the sanctions that have damaged its economy. That is the gist of the interim agreement made public on Thursday, April 2 in Lausanne. The text of the joint statement is quite succinct, and it will take at least another three months of negotiations to reach an agreement in good form. But the accomplishment so far is already very significant.

If successful, the process driven mainly by Washington and Tehran will change the balance in the Middle East. Freed from sanctions, Iran could become an economic power equivalent to Turkey, or even a superior one, thanks to its significant hydrocarbon reserves. Its regional influence will also be strengthened. Having removed the hypothetical nuclear weapons obstacle, the country will once again become a place of travel for Western powers. The U.S. could more easily incorporate Iran into a new strategic alliance in the Middle East. Today, this region is torn by jihadi movements which have carried the threat of terrorism to Europe’s doorstep. The area is also fragmented by the divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, which Saudi Arabia and Iran—neighboring and rival countries—have only intensified. Engaged until now in an alliance of necessity with Riyadh, Washington will find more room in which to maneuver if its relations with Tehran improve.

Can we trust the Iranians? That question is crucial for the negotiators. In the past, Tehran has conducted nuclear programs in secret. Some factions of the regime probably still want to do this. The high level of monitoring and control of Iran’s facilities required by the United States—but also by France—is designed to guard against this risk. In addition, the ongoing rapprochement is a bet on the aspiration of Iranian society to open itself up to the world, on the lust for foreign investment in local businesses, and on the willingness of some of the political elite to remove a revolutionary ideology that, since the fall of the Shah in 1979, has transformed the country into an extremely conservative matrix. France, after much hesitation, seems ready to take on this bet.

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