TIME Iran

Why Iran and the U.S. Need Each Other More Than Ever

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before a meeting in Vienna, Nov. 23, 2014.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before a meeting in Vienna, Nov. 23, 2014. Ronald Zak—Reuters

Once, each needed the other to be their defining enemy. Now, both sides need the other to help resolve a freshly delayed nuclear deal

Even in the absence of a deal, word that talks between Iran and six world powers will continue for another seven months make plain a startling new reality: Iran and the United States now need each other.

That has been true for three decades, of course, but during that time what each found in the other was a reliable enemy. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the ayatollahs who took control in Iran built their entire world view around opposition to the United States, which had propped up the Shah the masses sent packing (and helped engineer a coup against an elected Iranian government in 1953). The presence of the Great Satan allowed the mullahs’ vision to emerge – of a world defined by the teachings of Islam, as interpreted by themselves alone, and free of “Western toxification.” From the U.S. side, the 444-day takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and holding of 52 American hostages, has made the Islamic Republic the country’s go-to villain for more than a generation.

But grudges aren’t all there is to politics. Interests often trump feelings, and Tehran and Washington share a deep interest in reconciling the future of Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

The stakes for the U.S. are plain enough: Barring Iran from the means to develop a nuclear weapon undetected would not only keep a doomsday weapon from a historically radical regime, but also prevent a nuclear arms race in the world’s most reliably volatile region. And now that U.S. troops are back in Baghdad, and poised to remain in Afghanistan past the original Dec. 31, 2014 deadline, the Obama administration needs a clear foreign policy “win” more than ever.

Iran’s interests are not hard to see either – at least some of them aren’t. It wants to avoid being drawn into conflict, and, more immediately, wants relief from the devastating economic sanctions that Obama marshaled to coerce Tehran to the bargaining table. In an economy 80% controlled directly by the state, the estimated $100 billion lost so far has been a body blow to the regime. Among the losers is the financially rapacious Revolutionary Guard, an ideological military wrapped up with economic interests. Iran’s treasury is also stretched supporting its Hizballah and its ally Syria in that country’s civil war while oil prices plummet.

Iran may be wondering whether it even needs to become a nuclear state. It is coming off a string of battlefield successes, including a little-noticed takeover of Yemen by the Shiite al-Haouthi tribe supported by Tehran, and is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, where it wields huge influence. “We in the axis of resistance are the new sultans of the Mediterranean and the Gulf,” the Iranian analyst Sadiq Al-Hosseini said on state television Sept. 4. At this rate, getting The Bomb might seem like an unnecessary hassle.

At the same time, pressure for a deal only builds among Iran’s youthful population—over 60% of whom are aged 30 or under—and the mullahs fear their own people as any government does. That’s been in evidence since the surprise first-round election of Hassan Rouhani as president last year, on a platform of ending Iran’s international isolation, and could be seen as recently as mid-November, when hundreds of thousands of young people gathered to mourn a pop singer, in a potent reminder of the lasting potential for spontaneous demonstrations and the appetite of youth for connection.

“If that is not a big referendum on the status quo, I don’t know what is,” says Abbas Milani, head of Iranian studies at Stanford University. “Things like this happen on a daily basis, and I think Rouhani has recognized that the society has already moved.”

Other observers see the glass as half empty, or even less. Ray Takeyh, who follows Iran for the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that, unlike previous negotiations, the mullahs have signaled ownership of the process: “This negotiating team is not called ‘the negotiating team,’” he notes. “It’s called ‘children of the Revolution.’’’ But whatever interests the U.S. and Iran may share, he says, are overwhelmed by those they don’t.

“Arms control agreements are based on trust,” Takeyh says. “Each side has to trust the other. When they don’t trust each other, they both demand reversible steps that prevent years-old enmity from evaporating. I think that’s the reason you can’t get an arms control agreement. I think they both want to solve the nuclear issue, but at this point on terms that are unacceptable to each other.”

Still, they are talking, and holding to the terms of their previous agreement for seven more months. That might not be long enough to repair three decades of mistrust — but it might yet be enough to find that elusive patch of common ground on which to build a deal.

Read next: Iran Nuclear Talks to Be Extended Until July

TIME

Iran Nuclear Talks to Be Extended Until July

Officials sit around the negotiations table during their meeting in Vienna
Officials sit around the negotiations table during their meeting in Vienna on Nov. 24, 2014. Joe Klamar—Reuters

The move gives both sides breathing space to work out an agreement but may be badly received by domestic skeptics

(VIENNA) — Facing still significant differences between the U.S. and Iran, negotiators gave up on last-minute efforts to get a nuclear deal by the Monday deadline and extended their talks for another seven months.

The move gives both sides breathing space to work out an agreement but may be badly received by domestic skeptics, since it extends more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear prowess.

International negotiators are worried that Iran is using its nuclear development program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons and they have imposed economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran denies the charge, saying it is only interested peaceful nuclear programs like producing power.

After a frenetic six days of diplomacy in Vienna, negotiators agreed Monday to nail down by March 1 what needs to be done by Iran and the six world powers it is negotiating with and by when. A final agreement is meant to follow four months later.

Comments by key players in the talks suggested not much was agreed on in Vienna beyond the decision to keep talking. The next negotiating round was set for early December but the venue is unclear.

The decision appears to benefit Iran. Its nuclear program is left frozen but intact, without any of the cuts sought by the U.S. And while negotiations continue, so will dole-outs of monthly $700 million in frozen funds that began under the temporary nuclear deal agreed on late last year that led to the present talks.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the sides were giving themselves until March to agree on a text “that sets out in layman’s language what we have agreed to do.” Experts then will be given another four months to “translate that into precise definitions of what will happen on the ground,” he told reporters.

Even the new deadline for a final deal was not immediately clear, with negotiators saying it was July 1, and Hammond fixing it at June 30.

Past talks have often ended on an acrimonious note, with each side blaming the other for lack of a deal. But mindful of hard discussions ahead, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry focused on praise, in an apparent attempt to maintain a relatively cordial atmosphere at the negotiating table.

Kerry, who arrived Thursday and met repeatedly with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, said Zarif “worked diligently and approached these negotiations in good faith.”

“We have made real and substantial progress and we have seen new ideas surface,” he told reporters. “Today we are closer to a deal that will make the whole world, especially our allies in Israel and the Gulf, safer.”

Hammond and other foreign ministers of the six powers also sought to put a good face on what was achieved. Hammond spoke of “significant progress,” while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said only differences about “technical details” remained.

But the length of the extension suggested that both sides felt plenty of time was needed to overcome the disputes on how much Iran needed to restrict nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons in exchange for relief from sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.

“All the people involved here feel that there really is a chance to find out a way to each other and we are going to take that chance,” Steinmeier said about the decision to extend.

But obstacles far from the negotiating table could complicate the process.

Members of the new Republican-controlled U.S. Congress that will be sworn in in January have already threatened to impose additional sanctions on Iran and may well have enough votes to overturn an expected veto of such legislation by President Barack Obama.

New sanctions could very well derail the talks, as Iran has signaled they would be a deal breaker, and Kerry appealed to Congress to “support … this extension.”

In Tehran, hardliners fearful that their country could give away more than it gets under any final deal could increase pressure on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to break off talks. The talks extension, however, appears to have the approval of Khamenei, who is the ultimate arbiter in his country.

Among other issues, the two sides are haggling over how many — and what kind — of centrifuges Iran should be allowed to have. The machines can enrich uranium from low, reactor-fuel level, up to grades used to build the core of a nuclear weapon, and their output grows according to how modern they are.

Washington wants deeper and more lasting cuts in the program than Tehran is willing to give.

Suggesting some movement on enrichment differences, Kerry told reporters, “Progress was made on some of the most vexing challenges that we face.”

An extension was widely expected as the deadline approached with neither side having the appetite for new confrontation that would renew the threat of military action against Iran by Israel and potentially the U.S. as well as tighten the sanctions regime on Tehran.

Alluding to that alternative, Kerry declared: “We would be fools to walk away.”

TIME diplomacy

Iran Nuclear Talks Expected to Hit Deadline Without Deal

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry steps out as Britain's Foreign Secretary Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Iranian FM Zarif and German FM Steinmeier, French FM Fabius, EU envoy Ashton and Chinese FM Yi pose in Vienna
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry steps out as Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, EU envoy Catherine Ashton and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for photographers during their meeting in Vienna on Nov. 24, 2014. Pool/Reuters

Deadline was Monday but indications are talks will continue

Negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program will likely end in a stalemate on Monday, according to reports, but could resume one month after what had been called a deadline for striking a deal.

The New York Times, citing an unnamed Western diplomat, reports that Western negotiators were encouraged by “progress made this weekend” in Vienna and were likely to reconvene in December. But officials offered conflicting accounts of how far the negotiators had come toward reaching an agreement.

President Barack Obama called the differences “significant” in a Sunday television interview, but diplomats offered more optimistic assessments on Monday.

MORE: Iranians ponder economic future as nuclear talks near deadline

One Western diplomat told the Associated Press that the negotiators should complete a broad agreement by March 1 and settle the final details by July 1. Those comments were at odds with Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that the objective of the talks was to complete an outline of a final accord by Monday.

Western nations agreed to relax sanctions against Iran in July in exchange for new limits on the nation’s nuclear program and an extension of talks on a final status agreement until this Monday.

TIME

Iranians Ponder Economic Future as Nuclear Talks Near Deadline

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry is surrounded by security as he leaves after a meeting in Vienna
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves the Palais Coburg in Vienna Nov. 23, 2014. Leonhard Foeger—Reuters

An accord with world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program could ease the way for foreign investment and free up the country’s assets frozen abroad, something that many hope could help lift its economy out of the doldrums. But others warn against overstating the potential economic impact of any deal

With the deadline for the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers set to expire on Monday, opinion in the country remains divided on what economic benefits might flow for the oil-rich nation if the two sides eventually reach an accord.

Iranian officials have been promoting the upsides of a potential deal, with foreign minister Javad Zarif saying an agreement would be a national victory, although it remains unclear whether an accord will be reached in time for the Nov. 24 deadline or if the talks, which are being held in Vienna, might be extended.

For foreign businesses, an agreement between Iran on one side and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China on the other could open up a lucrative new market, as Western sanctions are lifted. The removal of sanctions would also free up Iranian assets frozen abroad.

“A deal… would be great, it would create a hope for the future among Iranians, it would lower their stress levels. It would also be a sort of détente with the US, which is an important step for building possible future relations,” says Amir Mohebbian, a Tehran-based political analyst considered close to influential conservative circles. “But more importantly it will allow new foreign capital to be invested inside Iran.”

This could help the country grow again, says Rocky Ansari, a leading financial and business advisor for foreign firms looking to invest and trade with Iran. Though rich in oil, Iran’s economy has suffered in recent years, with the country falling into recession, while unemployment and inflation both remain high.

“The impact of lifting sanctions will make a significant contribution to helping the economy come out of recession more rapidly, the freeing of Iran’s assets will help the government expedite the recovery of the economy,” says Ansari. “It will boost confidence in the government and the future and allow it to plan more substantially for the coming years. We would see a reflection of that in the Tehran Stock Exchange. People will be able to commit themselves to long term projects and investment.”

He concedes, however, that such changes will take time. “It will obviously take some time to implement policies. But even ahead of that the business community, the economy will be very pleased to hear that the sanctions will be gradually lifted, trade will be made easier and that financial transactions with the international banking system would take place more easily and at much lower cost, so this will be all very good news,” says Ansari.

Not everyone in the country is as optimistic. Hossein Ghasemzadeh, a merchant at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, the Iranian capital’s sprawling centuries-old trading center, says the recent economic slump has been toughest he’s ever experienced. “I’ve been working for 42 years in this Bazaar, but never have I experienced such hard and stressful times as the last six years. Even the revolution and the war period were better than now. Customers are few, and the profit margin is too low for comfort with the unstable economy today,” he explains.

But Ghasemzadeh, who sells home and kitchen appliances, doesn’t blame the sanctions imposed by foreign powers. “The main cause of the unstable economy, the reason we have so much problems is not the sanctions but the incompetence of the officials,” says.

Another merchant, Mohammad Arjmand, who sells clothes, agrees. “Of course no sanction is better than sanctions but it’s not going to change much because most of the country’s economic problems have nothing to do with sanctions,” he says. “The economy, the country, everything has been getting worse every year, the main problem is bad management and incompetence by the government. That’s why the lifting of sanctions won’t change anything for us.”

The merchants’ skepticism is shared by Saeed Laylaz, an economist and professor at the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. He says that while removing sanctions will have long term benefits for the Iranian economy, it won’t by itself fix everything. “The main cause of Iran’s economic woes, and I’ve always said this, is corruption, mismanagement and bad policies by the government, especially during the tenure of the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” he says. “The effect of sanctions on Iranian economy has been exaggerated and the belief that the lifting of sanctions will jump start the economy and miraculously solve all of Iran’s economic troubles is also disproportionate.”

Ultimately, what impact a deal in Vienna—if there is one—might have on the Iranian economy will likely depend on how the government responds to any easing of the sanctions regime. New policies will have to be formulated, as the economy, isolated for so long from the international markets, opens up. And it’s in this area, says Mohebbian, that the government needs to tread with care.

“What will really happen when all of the blocked assets and foreign investment capital starts to arrive inside Iran?” asks Mohebbian. “The government has no economic scenarios for the day after the deal.”

“I’m warning the government that they shouldn’t think they will have an easy job in the economy after a deal,” he says. “Iran had by trial and error learnt how to deal with the sanctions, but if a sudden influx of capital is not properly managed and controlled, if instead of infrastructure, creating jobs and medical care it is spent on consumerism, than it will magnify the wealth gap significantly. If that happens, and I fear that the government has no plans in place to prevent it, than instead of improving social welfare, the nuclear deal could ultimately cause social unrest.”

TIME Iran

Iranian Officials Seem Cautiously Optimistic About the Nuclear Talks

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attends a meeting in Tehran, Sept. 7, 2014. AP

Releases in Iran's state-controlled media seem to indicate the country is preparing for a deal at the nuclear talks in Vienna

There’s no shortage of pessimism about whether Iran and six world powers can reach a comprehensive deal on the country’s nuclear program by Nov. 24, the self-imposed deadline. Time is short, and as a senior U.S. official said before leaving for Vienna, where the talks began, “we have some very serious gaps to close.” But those looking for optimism need search no further then Tehran’s official media. Tightly controlled by the regime that is the ultimate authority on any pact, the country’s media may be preparing the Iranian public for an agreement.

While hardliners in Tehran grump about the talks, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has clearly aligned himself with the negotiators—even posting an interview with one of the diplomats, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, on his personal website this week

“Araqchi basically said ‘We’re winning this, we’re not giving in,’” says Abbas Milani, who heads the Iranian studies department at Stanford University. Milani was astonished by the post. Never before had Khamenei’s office made the site a forum for another official, even one understood, as Araqchi is, to be serving as the Leader’s personal representative. It signaled a full embrace of the talks by the man who, as his title makes clear, holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic.

“The headline was that the leader has had oversight of the entire negotiating process,” says Milani. “It’s clear to me this was an attempt to make a claim for victory and dissuade the idea that [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani is doing this on his own and will get all the credit.”

On the same day as that post, the man Khamenei named to lead Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was widely quoted on government outlets as saying that a nuclear deal was consistent with the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which remains the litmus test for all government endeavors.

Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander, also appeared to prepare the public for elements of a deal that may not look like a win for Iran. “If it appears that there are aspects of this where we’re accepted humiliation, first of all it’s not true — we are winning,” Jafari insisted. “But those perceptions of humiliation are because of the clumsy management and inexperience of some of our negotiators.”

The goal, the commander said, was the removal of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington and other world powers. “God willing, this goal will be reached,” Jafari said.

There was more. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, which is dominated by conservatives, spoke of “our spirit of resistance” taught by Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei as “the reason or our success, and why in spite of all efforts by the enemy they could not stop our progress on the nuclear front.”

“It is possible to have a deal,” Larijani added. “It’s just important for the U.S. not to ask for new conditions.”

Some in Iran complained that new conditions are just what the U.S. has indeed demanded. One hardline member of the parliament, or majlis, claimed to have seen the contents of an eight-page proposal Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly showed Iranian negotiators in Oman the previous week, and compared it to the Treaty of Turkmenchy, the 1828 capitulation to Russia that Iranians consider the epitome of humiliation, losing not only territory in the Caucasus but even the right to navigate on the Caspian Sea, which forms Iran’s northern border.

But to Iran watchers, what’s truly significant is that such grumbling is only background noise in what appears to be a concerted effort by Iran’s top echelon to set the foundation for a deal—if not on Monday, then if the talks are extended, as they may well be. There may be more riding on it than just escape from economically ruinous sanctions. The New York Times on Thursday quoted Amir Mohebbian, a conservative adviser long tied to the Leader’s office, predicting a nuclear deal as a harbinger of a strategic change in Iran’s entire political orientation.

“If there is a deal, and if it is good, the entire system will go along with it,” Mohebbian said in Tehran. “There will be a huge political shift after the deal. It is my conviction that those who make decisions within the system want it to be alive and supported. For survival, we need to change.”

It’s just such a change that President Obama has repeatedly said a nuclear deal might herald, opening the way for Iran to end its pariah status and return to “the community of nations.” So it’s possible Mohebbian is saying no more than what the administration wants to hear. But the expectations of a deal are running high in Iran, and the government appears to be doing much less than it might to discourage them.

TIME Television

Watch Stephen Colbert Question Jon Stewart’s Patriotism

“Are you a blame America first?” the show host asks his former boss from the Daily Show

Television worlds collided Thursday when Jon Stewart appeared as a guest on Daily Show alumni Stephen Colbert’s show, The Colbert Report, to promote his new film Rosewater.

“How does it feel to know that your entire career could have been shouted into a sock and thrown over an overpass?” Colbert says, needling his old boss.

Colbert calls Stewart his “friend and nemesis.”

“Rather than killing everyone else what if we were to…coexist with them in some kind of fashion,” Stewart asks the reactionary conservative Colbert.

“You mean like the bumper sticker?” asks Colbert.

Colbert praised Rosewater, a film about a journalist jailed in Iran after doing an interview with a Daily Show corespondent.

“It’s a beautiful film and that offends me. Why is it that you can do your show,” Colbert says, “and you do it well, and now you’re doing something else well.”

Read next: Jon Stewart Admits He Wants to Rip Off Benedict Cumberbatch’s Clothes

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hacking out of prison: San Quentin inmates are learning to code.

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

2. Your breath could reveal a fake: How a beetle’s camouflage trick might make money harder to counterfeit.

By James Urquhart in Chemistry World

3. Russia has learned there’s a great deal it can get away with in Ukraine.

By Amy Knight in the New York Review of Books

4. Protected areas like wetlands and coral reefs are at highest risk from climate change but can also be part of the solution.

By Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists

5. A U.S. deal with Iran could reset the Mideast balance of power.

By Patrick Smith in the Fiscal Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Iran

Report: Iran’s Copy of a Captured U.S. Drone Takes First Flight

Iran Copy of US Drone Takes First Flight
Iranians walk past a replica of the captured US RQ-170 drone which is on display next to the Azadi (Freedom) tower during the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on February 11, 2012. Atta Kenare—AFP/Getty Images

Iranian officials reaffirm they successfully extracted valuable technology from the downed drone

An Iranian copy of a U.S. drone that was deemed lost in 2011 has taken its first flight, its state news agency reported Monday.

Iran reported in December 2011 that it had captured a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone, a military stealth vehicle reportedly equipped with communication and nuclear surveillance technology. After news of the drone’s flight was reported by IRNA, Iranian commanders reaffirmed that valuable technology had been extracted from the American drone, according to Reuters.

“We promised that a model of RQ-170 would fly in the second half of the year, and this has happened,” Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told IRNA. “A film of the flight will be released soon.”

Hajizadeh suggested in early 2012 that Iran had plans to reverse-engineer the drone using the vehicle’s extracted data, the New York Times reported. U.S. officials had said in response to Hajizadeh’s claims that the drone’s security system would make extracting valuable information unlikely, though they said such systems do not always function properly.

[IRNA]

TIME White House

U.S. Seeks New Channels of Communication With Iran

A U.S. military official says the channels have become “necessary”

U.S. President Barack Obama is attempting to open fresh channels of communication with Iran concerning the war with ISIS.

A Pentagon official says the channels have become “necessary” as Tehran and Washington are now operating in the same areas, CNN reports.

Although the specifics of these discussions have not been revealed, an unnamed source told CNN that airspace management needed to be addressed so U.S. and Iranian operations wouldn’t conflict. The Iraqi military is apparently acting as a conduit.

This revelation comes after reports Obama sent a secret letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Khamenei last month.

Read more at CNN

TIME White House

Report: Obama Sent Secret Letter to Ayatullah Khamenei

From Left: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Barack Obama
From left: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and U.S. President Barack Obama Reuters; Getty Images

The White House has not confirmed the letter

President Barack Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran’s Ayatullah Ali Khamenei last month, laying out a shared interest in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to a media report based on anonymous sources.

Obama used the letter to try to win support for the U.S.-led strikes against the Sunni Islamist group and to push for a deal over Iran’s nuclear program ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has been critical of U.S.-led strikes, claiming the West is using ISIS as an excuse to intervene in the Middle East, and has been highly skeptical of the nuclear talks being conducted under the purview of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

At a White House news conference on Thursday, spokesperson Josh Earnest said he could not confirm the letter.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

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