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Opinion

How President Obama can forge a nuclear deal with Iran

Ahead of crucial 'P5+1' talks on Iran's nuclear program in Kazakhstan Feb. 26, President Obama needs to show willingness to meet Iranian concessions with some of his own. But Congress is in no mood to ease sanctions. Obama, however, can go around Congress.

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Second, while the president cannot control his own Congress, he can certainly work with the European Union and other allies, such as South Korea, Japan, Canada, and Australia, to make sure that they lift their own sets of sanctions against Iran if a reasonable agreement is reached.

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It is true that parliamentary procedures and executive decisions in those countries are also clogged by political considerations and various lobbies when it comes to dealing with Iran. But pressure from the American government would prompt these US allies to transcend “domestic politics” and cooperate with Washington in its effort to settle the nuclear crisis.

In working with America’s allies, Obama would also signal that he's not only capable of uniting the Western world against Iran, as has been the administration's motto for the past four years, but that he's also able to unite them in conciliation with Iran when it's needed.

By insisting on this tired “united against Iran posture,” the US and its Western allies are only exhibiting a patronizing attitude that is depriving Iranian leaders from conceding to a face-saving solution. Obama has the authority to change this climate and pave the ground for diplomacy to succeed.

Finally, the president can also – without the hindrance of Congress – reactivate the United Nations' dormant capacities and use them in favor of the upcoming negotiations. For example, his State Department can work with members of the Security Council to produce a pledge, through a “presidential statement,” that the UN body would lift its own international sanctions against Iran if an agreement is reached, notwithstanding previous resolutions.

This non-binding UN instrument would provide Iran the incentive to make concessions more confidently (knowing that its cooperation would be met with some degree of reciprocation). It would also give Western countries the assurance that adopting a more flexible approach on the question of  uranium enrichment would not breach previous UN resolutions against Iran, set a bad precedent, or dent the integrity of the Security Council.

Considering that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has already declared that Iran is ready to translate Ayatollah Khamenei's religious fatwa against nuclear weapons “into a legally binding, official document at the UN,” bringing a reciprocal UN document to the table would certainly help boost confidence between the parties before the start of the negotiations.

After more than a decade of Western pressure on Iran that has achieved no deal on its nuclear program, a change of approach is in order. Time is running out, and the ball is in President Obama's court.

Reza Nasri is an international lawyer specializing in Iranian affairs and charter and foreign relations law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

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