KAYHAN BARZEGAR, an Iranian analyst affiliated with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University and a director at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran
Idea: The time is right for US-Iran talks
Three decades of mutual hostility between the US and Iran might appear to be an immovable object, as negotiations continue into 2011 over Iran's controversial nuclear program. But amid the noisy rhetoric from both sides – and American fears of an Iranian bomb – one strategist finds a silver lining that could transform the Middle East.
"The existing controversy over the nuclear issue also possesses potential for engendering greater proximity between Tehran and Washington," says Mr. Barzegar, contacted in Tehran. "Iran's nuclear program is at the point where the two countries' strategic needs converge."
The priority the US currently puts on security should compel Washington to want to engage in direct talks. At the same time, he argues that America's near obsession with the Iranian nuclear issue creates a "political parity" that should make future negotiations acceptable to factions in Iran.
The result, if reason prevails, is an "inevitable" move toward a win-win compromise, because at present "neither side … is able to totally ignore the other side's demands," says Barzegar. "Iran cannot give up its independent nuclear fuel cycle because it has paid a high political price on it, and the US cannot put up with a so-called nuclear-armed Iran. The main balancing point would be a win-win game, [in which] the US accepts the independent fuel cycle on Iran's soil and Iran accepts all necessary guarantees to ensure Iran's nuclear program will not have military objectives."
"It is now clear that neither side can marginalize the role of the other in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, or Palestine," notes Barzegar. "Washington and Tehran must choose between interaction or war. Evidence indicates that both parties prefer interaction, though they want to rely on their own tried and tested tactics [of keeping] the upper hand."