Trita Parsi writes: It is now almost exactly four years ago since President Barack Obama famously offered Iran America’s hand of friendship if Tehran would unclench its fist. Though no one is speaking of friendship today — or even mutual respect — a deal may finally be in the making. Both sides appear to be preparing the ground, in their own ways, for a compromise. The precipitating factors are a combination of realizing that the escalation game has reached a dead end and the quiet signaling of acceptance of the other’s red line.
The marginal utility of further escalation is rapidly declining. The White House is on the record opposing additional sanctions at this point, arguing that it will undercut their strategy. Sanctions have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy and helped create medicine shortages, but there are no clear signs yet that sanctions have softened Tehran’s nuclear stance. Similarly, the Iranians appear to have realized that further escalating and accelerating their nuclear activities by increasing enrichment levels beyond 20 percent, for instance, will not provide Iran with added leverage. Rather, such measures would risk transforming a chicken race into a street fight with no honorable exit options.
Behind the tough rhetoric emanating from both sides, veiled hints at a major compromise can be found. In just the last few days, editorials in both the New York Times and the Washington Post have argued that a deal should be made which accepts limited enrichment in Iran under five percent and the lifting of some sanctions in return for unhindered inspections. The Obama administration has also hinted at this. If implemented, this would be an acceptance of Iran’s red line and the most compelling force generating a reciprocal step from Tehran (far more so than the pinch of sanctions). [Continue reading…]