An American negotiator wearing army pants and boots sits at a table with an Iranian diplomat in a poster hanging in Tehran. The caption reads, “American Honesty.” The anti-American poster, and several others like it, was taken down by municipal authorities in late-October, reports Reuters. Propaganda criticizing the United States have been a staple of Iran’s capital city for decades, but the newly elected moderate government is tearing them down as relations thaw with the West. The cleanup came with productive talks with the U.N. over its nuclear program.
“Iran presented a new proposal on practical measures as a constructive contribution to strengthen cooperation and dialogue with a view to future resolution of all outstanding issues,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement after two days of talks in Vienna that it described as “very productive.”
Before the talks, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee was considering a bill to increase sanctions on Iran. The bill proposed drastically cutting Iran’s oil exports. In response to the announcement that Iran could cooperate with the IAEA on an investigation of its nuclear program, the U.S.’ lead negotiator with Iran, Wendy Sherman, urged Washington to put sanction plans on hold.
“We think that this is a time for a pause, to see if these negotiations can gain traction,” Sherman told Voice of America in an interview aimed at officials in Washington and Tehran. “We don’t get to control Congress, but we are having very serious discussions…We need them to continue to be effective partners to reach a successful conclusion, and I have trust that they will be.”
The United States already has sanctions in place against Iran. The current set of economic sanctions curtailed Iranian exports of oil by more than a million barrels a day. Sherman and the Obama Administration worry that tighter sanctions could derail the talks.
Iran’s overtures to the West are a stark departure from the country’s past foreign policy. Since coming into office four months ago, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani has labored to portray his administration as moderate. His rhetoric is much more toned down in comparison to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was famous for comparing the U.S. to Satan and denying the Holocaust. Rouhani’s moderate image is seen by some as a good sign for the historically combative relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
Iran has repeatedly stated that its nuclear program is purely for civilian use — generating electricity. The United States and its allies have long suspected that the civilian energy program is a front for a military project to construct a nuclear weapon. A recent Los Angeles Times op-ed cautioned American negotiators to proceed carefully with nuclear talks, writing “the United States should only pursue an agreement within certain parameters, to ensure the deal actually furthers the interests of the U.S. and its allies.” It suggested that those parameters include limiting the size of Iran’s nuclear fuel stockpile and prevent it from enriching energy-grade uranium into higher weapons-grade uranium that could be used to build a bomb.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was quick to criticize the deal. In an article for The Guardian, he said that Iran has never been honest with the international community about its nuclear capability and they shouldn’t be trusted now. He urged President Obama to keep a military option on the table.
“We have only two very unpleasant choices: either Iran gets nuclear weapons in the very near future, or pre-emptive military force, fully justified by well-established principles of self-defense, must break Iran’s control over the nuclear fuel cycle and prevent (or, at least, substantially delay) weaponization,” Bolton said. “The fact is we shouldn’t trust and can’t verify Iranian promises not to fabricate nuclear weapons.”
Though may share Bolton’s hesitancy to negotiate with Iran, the White House remained cautiously optimistic about the prospects of cutting a deal in the near future that could avert a military confrontation.