What’s different for these Iran nuclear talks

Water woes caused by climate change could compel Iran to seek a deal on its nuclear program – and join others in the Middle East in water cooperation.

WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
A woman and her son walk near Qom, Iran, March 24.

A new round of talks aimed at restarting the Iranian nuclear deal begins Nov. 29, the first negotiations since the election of a new hard-line president in Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, last June. But more hangs over these talks than a conservative regime in Tehran that might be less inclined to revive the 2015 agreement with the United States.

Also since June, Iran has experienced one of its driest spells in half a century. Water behind dams is down 30% from last year, causing electricity blackouts. Dozens of cities have suffered with cuts in water supplies. Between 2003 and 2017, Iran’s capital, Tehran, subsided more than 12 feet because of underground aquifers being depleted.

“A tough year lies ahead,” wrote Qasem Taghizadeh-Khasemi, deputy energy minister for water, on Instagram in September.

Even more worrisome to the rule of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are ongoing protests over water issues. At least eight protesters have been killed in recent months. The protests brought a rare statement of consolation from Mr. Khamenei. “The people showed their displeasure,” he said, “but we cannot really blame the people, and their issues must be taken care of.”

Along with other woes – inflation, high youth unemployment, tough U.S. sanctions – Iran may be desperate for international help to relieve its water crisis. If that’s the case, it would be joining several other Middle East countries that have lately begun to cooperate on water issues, reversing decades in which water was a source of conflict in the region.

One example was a session on the sidelines of the recent United Nations climate conference in Scotland. A group called the Eastern Mediterranean & Middle East Climate Change Initiative, formed in 2019, met to start formulating a 10-year plan to collaborate on water issues. The membership ranges from Oman to Israel to Cyprus. Israel has also started to cooperate with Jordan on water sharing and to export its sophisticated water technology to the Gulf states and Morocco, part of an emerging Israel-Arab detente.

“The effects of climate change in the Middle East are so dramatic and severe that only through regional cooperation can we survive and prosper,” Ambassador Gideon Behar, Israel’s special envoy for climate change and sustainability, told The Times of Israel.

If such cooperation helps relieve the parched lands of the Middle East, the region could be a harbinger for the rest of the world as it deals with climate change. When faced with a common enemy, longtime foes may see each other as a needed friend.

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