TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 20

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

1. America loves to take sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, we shouldn’t.

By Paul R. Pillar in the National Interest

2. Here’s why Congress should drop the ban on federal funds for needle exchanges. (It’s because they work.)

By Kevin Robert Frost at CNN

3. Cheap coal is a lie.

By Al Gore and David Blood in the Guardian

4. How small-batch distilling could save family farms.

By Andrew Amelinckx in Modern Farmer

5. Can you fix city management with data? Mike Bloomberg is betting $42 million you can.

By Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post

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

The 3 Things the Ayatullah Wanted to Achieve in His Defiant Speech

Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking to crowds during a ceremony in Tehran on April 9, 2015.
Official Supreme Leader Website/EPA Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking to crowds during a ceremony in Tehran on April 9, 2015.

The Supreme Leader appealed to hard-liners while leaving the door open to the U.S.

Ayatullah Ali Khamenei broke his silence on the outline of a nuclear deal with the West on April 9, in a speech widely understood to be a buzzkill. “I have told the officials to not trust the opposing side,” he said, “to not be fooled by their smiles, to not trust their promises because when they have achieved their objectives they will laugh at you.”

But was it really a nail in the coffin for the negotiations? There’s no one answer, not least because over the week that followed it has become clear Iran’s Supreme Leader was trying to do several things at once:

1. Take control of the narrative.

By the time Khamenei, 75 and ailing, took the stage in Tehran in April, it was clear Iran’s right-wingers needed to be let out of their cage. At that point, all the skepticism toward the outline agreement seemed to be coming from the U.S. Congress, and in these negotiations, skepticism back home serves to improve one’s bargaining position. Every harsh appraisal from the Hill — which appears poised to demand review of any final deal — arms Western negotiators with new leverage to push even harder for Iranian concessions, as the two sides seek to nail down specifics before the June 30 deadline for a final pact.

But American politicians outshouting Iranians in opposition to a nuclear deal is a strange and rare dynamic, like McDonald’s hawking the Whopper, with Iran in the role of Burger King. The Leader set out to right the universe. Three times in his speech Khamenei called on negotiators to heed or answer “critics,” conspicuously lifting the ban on smack talk. He also directed them to address two specific points that apparently remain outstanding: the timing of lifting all sanctions, which Khamenei said should be immediate, and access of U.N. inspectors to Iranian military facilities, which he at least appeared to forbid.

2. Quiet the crowds.

Iran’s theocratic government is not a monolith, and the unpleasant political reality was that the factions least identified with Khamenei received all the acclaim for the prospective deal announced on April 2. Cheering reformist Foreign Minister Javad Zarif upon arrival from Switzerland, the crowd at the airport chanted, “Kayhan, Israel, our condolences,” naming a hard-line newspaper (whose editor Khamenei appoints) as a loser. Khamenei used his speech to declare that there’s nothing to cheer yet. “Nothing has yet been done and no binding topic has been brought up between the two sides,” he said, in the transcript posted on his personal website, www.leader.ir. “Therefore, extending congratulations is pointless.”

Abbas Milani, who runs the Iranian studies program at Stanford, tells TIME that while President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the platform of striking a deal, Khamenei “doesn’t want Rouhani to get too much credit. He’s very clear: If there’s a deal, it’s because I wanted it. And if there’s not, it’s because these guys were too frivolous to understand they were giving away too much.”

3. Keep the door open.

Khamenei may well loathe and distrust America, but along with the usual name-calling (“obstinate, unreliable, dishonest and into backstabbing”), his speech made clear his willingness to seal a deal — and even work with Washington on future projects, should this one end well. “Of course, the negotiations on the nuclear issue are an experience,” he said. “If the opposite side gives up its misconduct, we can continue this experience in other issues.” He even raised the possibility of extending the talks beyond the June 30 deadline, one more measure of how badly Iran needs a final pact. The regime Khamenei inherited in 1989 from Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini may or may not want a nuclear weapon, but without relief from economic sanctions it will be in continuing danger. It’s not only a matter of the hardship born by ordinary Iranians, but by the state itself. Iran’s public sector accounts for perhaps three-quarters of the national economy, directly employing 80% of the Iranian workforce. Small wonder that Khamanei authorized the nuclear negotiations with a call for “heroic flexibility.”

The Supreme Leader’s speech can be seen as a kind of “Rorschach test,” Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has written extensively on Khamenei, tells TIME. “He throws a lot of red meat to his hard-line base to reassure them he’s still an anti-American revolutionary. But careful readers also notice that underneath all the vitriol, he leaves the door of compromise with the U.S. slightly ajar. Given how badly the Iranian people want this deal to happen, Khamenei doesn’t want to be seen in their eyes as the obstacle.”

All of which, when the dust has cleared, looks like a stronger position for the West as the next round.

TIME Opinion

Another Similarity Between Lincoln and Obama: They Polarized the Nation

Abraham Lincoln portrait
Stock Montage / Getty Images Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) posed for a formal portrait, mid-19th century.

Lincoln was a lightning rod—and Obama is too

Americans yearn for an end to political polarization and partisanship, and many today fault President Obama for failing to achieve consensus on his major initiatives: health care, immigration reform, foreign policy and so on. But consider Abraham Lincoln. From their state of origin to their legal backgrounds, the two presidents have drawn many comparisons, and here’s another: Despite his various efforts at outreach, our sixteenth president was, in life, an intensely polarizing and partisan figure, every bit as polarizing and partisan as our current president.

Lincoln’s presidency, which ended exactly 150 years ago today, sharply differed from the experience of his predecessors. Before Lincoln, five presidents had won a second term: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson. Each had carried both North and South in at least one of his presidential bids. By contrast, Lincoln was purely a regional candidate, despised by intense majorities in a large chunk of the country. In 1860, he received zero popular votes south of Virginia, and in 1864, none of the 11 states in Dixie held a valid presidential election, thanks to sectional war precipitated by Lincoln’s prior election. Even Lincoln’s assassination was related to regional differences: John Wilkes Booth was an intense southern partisan.

In the ensuing century and a half, many of America’s most successful presidents have managed to achieve considerable popularity in both North and South. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all outdid Lincoln in this regard. But our current president won, twice, by following a more emphatically Lincolnian path to power—that is, a distinctly northern route: Of the 11 states in the former confederacy, Obama lost eight twice, and lost a ninth (North Carolina) once, prevailing twice only in Virginia and Florida.

In our era, as in Lincoln’s, regional polarization is on the upswing. Prior to 1850, the winning presidential candidate typically carried both North and South. But that pattern broke down in the 1850s, even before Lincoln rose to national prominence; and a similar fate has befallen Obama. At the presidential level the North and the South have backed different candidates in every one of the six most recent elections; and many states are becoming increasingly red or blue, presidentially. In 2012, only four swing states—Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia—were close enough to be decided by fewer than five points.

If we shift gears from regional polarization to political polarization, Lincoln and Obama once again appear as political doubles. Both made efforts to reach across the aisle. For example, Lincoln, a Republican, chose a former Democrat, Edwin Stanton, to serve as Secretary of War. Democrat Obama has symmetrically chosen Republicans Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel to fill the same slot, now renamed the Secretary of Defense. Still, Lincoln’s signature executive accomplishments were at risk in a judiciary dominated by appointees of the opposite political party; the same remains true for Obama. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, every single congressional Democrat voted against the Fourteenth Amendment, which codified Lincoln’s dream of birthright equality of all citizens; almost never before had America seen such 100% polarization. In our era, every single congressional Republican likewise opposed Obama’s signature health care plan.

But even on the topics where his proposals were most radical, Lincoln’s opponents’ arguments have not aged well. Shortly before his death, he signed a proposed constitutional amendment providing for an end to American slavery—immediately and with no financial compensation to slaveholders. Nothing like this had ever happened in any American jurisdiction where slavery was widespread. In 1860, less than 1% of America’s black population voted on equal terms. In 1870, all racial disfranchisement was constitutionally forbidden, building on another suggestion made by Lincoln himself in his last public speech, just days before he died.

That level of equality had been a new public stance for Lincoln, a break from his more cautious early views, much as Obama has only recently evolved to a position of open embrace of same-sex marriage. If the Supreme Court later this year constitutionalizes this egalitarian vision, following the lead of the latest lanky lawyer from Illinois to occupy the Oval Office, the decision will likely trigger howls of protest. These howls are likely to be loudest in those regions that hated Lincoln and all that he stood for when he was still standing. But Lincoln’s example should remind us that contemporary controversy does not necessarily mean that the judgment of history will be equivocal. Lincoln’s vision of racial equality has been vindicated by posterity; and the same seems highly likely for Obama’ vision of sexual-orientation equality. As Mark Twain is said to have noted, history never repeats itself—but it sometimes rhymes.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Akhil Reed Amar is a professor of law at Yale and author of the newly released book, The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of our Constitutional Republic.

TIME Cuba

Obama’s Move to Drop Cuba From Terror List Sets Up Showdown With Congress

PANAMA-AMERICAS-SUMMIT-CUBA-US-OBAMA-CASTRO
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images Cuba's President Raul Castro, left, speaks during a meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City, Panama.

Four months after promising to review Cuba's place on the terrorism list, Obama aims to remove the main obstacle to reopening a Havana embassy

President Obama formally moved on Tuesday to remove Cuba from the short, brutish list of states supporting terrorism. The technical finding — that Havana had not offered material support to terrorists in the previous six months — is likely to trigger the first substantial political challenge to Obama’s decision to end the half-century of U.S. efforts to isolate the regime that has ruled Cuba since 1962. By law Congress has 45 days to pass a joint resolution blocking the change, a challenge that anti-Castro lawmakers and Republican critics indicated they would take up. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen promptly declared, “This unwise decision to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list illustrates that the Obama Administration is willing to concede to the demands of the Castro brothers in order to set up an embassy in Cuba.”

Indeed, if the removal stands, Havana and Washington will likely reopen embassies in each other’s capitals in short order. The terrorism listing was the main obstacle in negotiations aimed at exchanging ambassadors, according to Cuban officials, who urged Obama to make good on his December vow to reconsider the designation. Last weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, where President Raúl Castro heaped scorn on the American history of interference in Latin American affairs — and praise on Obama, whom Castro called “an honest man” — the Cuban leader offered thanks in advance for Obama’s efforts to remove the designation, which prevented many firms from doing business with Cuba, and Cuban diplomats from opening bank accounts in the U.S.

“They say we’re terrorists,” Raúl Castro said on Saturday, citing the 1982 State Department finding that Havana had provided aid and arms to guerrilla groups in Latin America and Africa. “And we indeed have acted in solidarity with many peoples that may be considered terrorists” from the viewpoint of “imperialism,” Castro added. But that support largely vanished with the end of the Cold War. The last State Department justification for Cuba’s place on the terrorism listing cited previous support for the leftist insurgent guerrillas known as FARC in Colombia and the regime’s sheltering of Basque separatists. But Havana is currently hosting peace talks between FARC and Colombia’s government, and some of the Basques have returned to Spain.

“Circumstances have changed since 1982, when Cuba was originally designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America,” the State Department said in a statement. “Our hemisphere, and the world, look very different today than they did 33 years ago.”

The meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials in Panama, where Cuba was for the first time attending the Summit of the Americas, ended on a hopeful note, with vows that the embassy negotiations would resume in Havana very soon. “Our embassy personnel have had to use cash for everything and that complicates matters,” one senior Cuban official told TIME. “Having us on the terrorist list is ridiculous, but being part of the list complicates our day-to-day operations.”

Cuban officials noted that there were serious differences in the hour-long talk between Castro and Obama on April 11, mostly about human rights and elections. But, like their American counterparts, the Cubans emphasized that despite the remaining differences the two countries could start cooperating in areas of shared concern, mainly international human trafficking, drug trafficking, cybercrimes, the environment, energy and health.

Being removed from the terrorism list would also open Cuba to investors deterred by the strict U.S. censures awaiting firms doing business with listed nations. “The removal of Cuba from the list works on two levels,” said Pedro Freyre, an internationalist law specialist at Akerman LLP in Miami. “As a symbol, Cuba is removed from the list of bad actors, which now only includes Syria, Sudan and Iran. On a practical level, the ability of U.S. financial institutions to consider transactions with Cuban institutions is now facilitated. The compliance burden of engaging in transactions with countries on the list has made banking with Cuba prohibitively risky up until now. We should begin to see some movement on that front.”

First, though, it has to get past Congress. Obama’s rapprochement with Havana defied the Miami-based lobby of Cuban exiles that long dominated, if not dictated, U.S. policy toward the island, and its strength on Capitol Hill has not been tested since the new policy was announced on Dec. 17. That lobby suffered a loss with the recent indictment of Robert Menendez, the Cuban-American U.S. Senator from New Jersey who was the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Policy Committee. But another opponent of rapprochement, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, yesterday announced that he is running for the Republican nomination for President. So it’s safe to say the issue will not die for lack of attention. — With reporting by Dolly Mascareñas / Panama City

TIME Healthcare

About 90% of U.S. Adults Now Have Health Insurance

The uninsured rate has fallen under Obamacare

Amost 90% of American adults now have health insurance, according to a new survey released Monday.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows that the uninsured rate has dropped to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015. That’s down one percentage point from the previous quarter and down 5.2 percentage points since the end of 2013, when the expansion of coverage under President Obama’s health care reform law went into effect.

“The uninsured rate is the lowest since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008,” Gallup said. The rate of uninsured Americans rose to more than 17% by 2011, and peaked at 18% just a couple years later. It dropped significantly when the health care law was implemented.

The survey shows that while the uninsured rate has dropped among all groups, the greatest declines came for lower-income Americans and Hispanics.

TIME Cuba

Obama Pivots to Latin America With Cuba on His Mind

Cuban President Raul Castro (2-R) and US President Barack Obama (L) shaking hands as Castro's grandson and bodyguard Raul Rodriguez Castro (2-L), Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (C) and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (R) look on, moments before the opening ceremony of the VII Americas Summit, in Panama City on April 10, 2015.
AFP/Getty Images Cuban President Raul Castro (2-R) and US President Barack Obama (L) shaking hands as Castro's grandson and bodyguard Raul Rodriguez Castro (2-L), Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (C) and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (R) look on, moments before the opening ceremony of the VII Americas Summit, in Panama City on April 10, 2015.

Obama and Castro share the limelight at summit of the hemisphere that usually gets half a loaf

The pivot to Asia may not have worked out terribly well, but spending spring break in Panama City turns out to be a welcome change of pace for President Obama. Every president says he’s going to pay more attention to Latin America, then ends up taking the region largely for granted while immersed in tar babies like the Middle East, which re-asserted itself with a vengeance after Obama’s heralded 2013 attempt to spend more time on China and Asia.

But the historic rapprochement with Cuba has brought breathless attention to, of all things, the Summit of the Americas, a largely ceremonial, traditionally moribund gathering of the leaders of the Organization of American States, the 35 countries of North and South America. The prospect of Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro — realized at the Friday night official opening of the Summit, and confirmed by a statement from the National Security Council —made irresistibly personal the end of more than a half-century of official enmity, in a setting that let the entire hemisphere share the spotlight. (The White House confirmed on Friday that Obama had telephoned the Cuban leader.) Latin America may be staggering economically, and many of its prominent leaders tattooed by corruption scandals, but this weekend, at least, no one was pretending there was anything even remotely bigger at hand on foreign policy than the reunion of Washington and Havana.

The opening with Cuba animated the otherwise bland presentation to CEOs that was Obama’s first event in Panama City. “We want to congratulate you on your policy towards Cuba,” the moderator told the American President, to a round of applause. Obama himself seemed caught up in the energy at his next event, a speech to civil society groups. “I’m pleased to have Cuba represented with us, for the very first time,” Obama said, of Havana’s presence at the summit, from which it was barred (at Washington’s insistence) between 1962 and 2009.

He then delivered an ardent appeal for ordinary citizens to involve themselves in public policy, citing his debt to the American civil rights movement for the changes that led to his own historic election. Obama brought up Cuba again, asserting that the U.S. goal was not to “impose” change on the island but to empower Cubans to improve their own lives.

The loudest applause, however, followed Obama’s statement that, “The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.” As the applause continued, he held up a finger. “But we have to be very clear,” he said, that U.S. support for groups who “spoke truth to power” should be viewed as altruistic rather than hegemonic. “We have a debt to pay, because the voices of ordinary people made us better,” Obama concluded. “That’s a debt I want to pay in this hemisphere and around the world.”

Resentment over the United States’ sometimes heavy-handed history in the hemisphere remains one of the engines of politics in the region. Anti-Americanism has proved a handy cudgel for leaders such as Nicolas Maduro, the embattled Venezuelan president who was a protege of the late, and much more effective Hugo Chavez. Venezuela has been a huge patron of Cuba, and Maduro arrived at the summit with a petition signed by several million Venezeulans protesting the threatening language in a recent Obama executive order imposing sanctions on Maduro officials implicated in abusing protesters and political opponents. Maduro’s first stop in Panama City was a memorial to the more than 500 civilians killed in the 1989 U.S. invasion of the city. He was greeted with chants of “Maduro, stick it to the Yankee!”

Just so the U.S. still knows where it is.

TIME Cuba

How Obama Is Readying the Way to Meet Castro

The U.S. prepares to remove Cuba from the terror list, paving the way for normalized relations

The United States is not hosting the Summit of the Americas; the meeting of Organization of American States members convenes on Friday in Panama City. But the Obama administration has spent the days leading up to it in a flurry of straightening, smoothing and generally endeavoring to assure that things go smoothly—especially for the newest guest: Cuba.

On Wednesday, Obama received a long-awaited report from the State Department on whether Cuba should be removed from the list of states supporting terrorism. Speaking in Jamaica, where he stopped on Thursday en route to Panama, Obama said he cannot act on the report until other executive agencies review it, but he has repeatedly made it clear that he believes Cuba no longer belongs on the terror list with Iran, Sudan and Syria. That in turn should clear the way for Havana and Washington to re-open embassies. A Cuban official last month told TIME the negotiations over exchanging ambassadors and more fully normalizing relations had stalled over Havana’s inclusion on the terror list.

Meanwhile, a senior State Department official made a surprise visit to Venezuela, which has been Cuba’s strongest supporter, and a target of sharp criticism from the U.S., which recently slapped sanctions on seven senior officials for abusing protestors and opposition leaders. And while no explanation was offered for the discreet visit on Tuesday by Thomas A. Shannon Jr., a veteran diplomat who holds the title of State Department counselor, the White House has been making it clear that it is not looking to escalate tensions with Caracas, where President Nicolas Maduro has capitalized on the language contained in the executive order announcing the sanctions (and on Tuesday promoted two of the sanctioned officials).

“The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security,” Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. The language in the order declaring Venezuela to be even worse—”an unusual and extraordinary threat”—was, Rhodes said, boilerplate legalese not intended to make an enemy state of the fourth-largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States. “Completely pro forma,” Rhodes said.

And so the way is smoothed and the air freshened for the kind of meeting both Washington and Havana had in mind on Dec. 17, when Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro jointly announced they would renew relations after half a century of estrangement. The men shook hands at the December 2013 funeral of Nelson Mandela, and spoke by phone to cement the December announcement. But the Summit in Panama has been held out as the venue that would showcase the countries’ long-awaited rapprochement.

“In general, but particularly at this summit, symbolism matters,” says Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Castro’s presence is news in itself—this is the first time Cuba has attended an OAS summit since it was suspended in 1962, following its embrace of the Soviet Union. Castro stayed away even after the suspension was lifted in 2009, as Latin American countries rallied around the country the United States had tried to isolate for so long, and with steadily diminishing results. By the time of December’s announcement, Rhodes noted, U.S. policy on Cuba was having the perverse effect of isolating Washington, not the other way around.

So removing Cuba as a polarizing issue should help relations across Latin America, O’Neil says. “For so many years, this U.S.-Cuba standoff has been an overriding difficulty with all sorts of countries, not just the ones we have chronic difficulties with like Venezuela,” says O’Neil. And if Venezuela appears poised to replace Cuba as an polarizing topic, the State Department outreach may serve to temper that, taking Maduro almost instantly up on his reported willingness to smooth out relations with Washington rather than escalate. “The worry here is that all the other good change with Cuba might be overshadowed by Venezuela,” says O’Neil.

Not all see the change with Cuba as good, of course. Polls show a majority of Americans and almost every Cuban favors the opening, but much of the Cuban exile community based in south Florida oppose the reconciliation, and the anti-Castro titans of Congress warn that they will try to block any effort to remove it from the terror list. Passions run high—and in Panama City exploded into fisticuffs when pro-Castro and anti-Castro protestors encountered one another Wednesday in front of the Cuban embassy. A video of the brawl, with grown men struggling to both land blows and hold their sports coats, might be the cartoon version Clauswitz’s observation that war is a continuation of politics by other means.

— With reporting from Dolly Mascarenas in Panama City

TIME LGBT

White House Supports Efforts to Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’ for Gay and Transgender Youth

The decision comes in response to the suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn

The Obama Administration responded to a petition on Wednesday saying it supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy on gay and transgender minors.

The announcement comes as a response to the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager who threw herself in front of a trailer-tractor last December and who, in a suicide note, said her parents were forcing her to see therapists who tried to convince her to identify as a boy.

A WhiteHouse.gov petition asking the government to ban such practices after Alcorn’s death has garnered more than 120,000 signatures since it was posted in early January.

“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the President Obama, wrote in a statement posted in response to the petition. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

By taking a stance on the practice, sometimes referred to as “reparative” therapy, the Administration is following the recommendations by a number of major medical institutions. The American Psychological Association has taken a stance against conversion therapy, saying that it poses a threat to the health of those forced to undergo it. And the American Medical Association, World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics have all also condemned the practice.

Jarrett went on to write that Obama would not issue an outright call for a federal ban, but noted he would support efforts to ban conversion therapy on a state level. That will likely be a long endeavor, as conversion therapy is currently banned only in California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, the New York Times reports.

This isn’t a completely partisan issue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, signed a ban into law in 2013. However, similar bills have struggled in other states. Earlier Wednesday, a Colorado Senate committee voted 3 to 2 to strike down a bill that would have outlawed conversion therapy. Nevada and Oregon are currently considering similar measures.

Read next: Leelah Alcorn’s Suicide: Conversion Therapy Is Child Abuse

TIME Foreign Policy

The 5 Keys to a Final Nuclear Deal With Iran

The details of the agreement are only part of it. Here's what else matters.

The U.S., Iran, the European Union, Russia and China announced that they had “reached solutions on key parameters” to a nuclear deal April 2 after more than a week of tough negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Speaking at the White House, President Obama called the deal “historic” but also said that it was only a “framework” that depended on a final written agreement being set to paper in coming weeks.

In principle, the deal traded limits on the Iranian nuclear program and broad but unspecified international inspections in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and E.U. sanctions and conditional removal of United Nations sanctions. Obama said that until the written agreement was signed, “our work is not yet done” and that if Iran backslid, “there will be no deal.”

Five things will determine whether the U.S. and Iran can ultimately reach a signed, sealed agreement.

  1. What the deal says. Iranian acceptance of intrusive international monitoring of its nuclear program, and the ability of the U.S. and others to reimpose penalties if Iran cheats on a deal are the most important parts of any agreement for the Obama administration. The April 2 statement includes some specifics of the inspections, but leaves others open. Iran has apparently agreed to inspections of all parts of the Iranian nuclear program from mining and milling uranium to suspected nuclear weapons research facilities, and is “required to grant access” to suspicious sites. But the details of that access, its frequency and any limits Iran might try to impose are unclear. If the inspectors, or Western spies, turn up evidence of cheating, the U.S. wants to be able to reimpose the tough economic sanctions that forced Iran to the negotiating table without engaging in lengthy diplomatic wrangling at the U.N. The April 2 agreement speaks of removing some UN sanctions, maintaining others and says a “dispute resolution process” will be put in place.
  1. How Obama handles Congress. The March 31 deadline that drove the current round of talks was actually just a way for the administration to get the U.S. Congress off its back. The real deadline is the June 30 expiration of the Nov. 2013 interim agreement which froze Iran’s nuclear program in return for freezing Western sanctions. Many in Congress believe, rightly, that tough U.S. sanctions helped force Iran to sign that interim agreement to begin with, and now Republicans and some Democrats want a say in whether those sanctions get lifted. Some want to take action to force Iran to agree to concessions in writing. Congressional action could backfire and undermine the April 2 statement before a final deal is written down and signed. The administration is negotiating the terms of any Congressional action, and the outcome of those discussions is unclear.
  1. How Obama handles the international coalition. The greatest downside to the recent talks in Lausanne, from the U.S. perspective, was the appearance of fractures in the international sanctions coalition. Russia and China’s agreement to squeeze Iran through U.N. sanctions was another key to Iranian concessions over the last few years. At one point in the lengthy talks in Switzerland, Russia seemed to side with Iran over whether a deal had been agreed even as the U.S. and France said one hadn’t, raising the danger of a split. If Iran can divide the U.S. and the E.U. from Russia before signing a final deal June 30, it could escape sanctions without having to follow through on the April 2 concessions it provisionally agreed to.
  1. What happens in Iran and Saudi Arabia’s proxy war. Our magazine story this week details the region-wide proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is the urgent regional context for the nuclear issue. The Obama Administration is struggling to reassure allies in the Middle East that a deal with Iran doesn’t mean Washington is looking to help Iran’s ascendancy in the new, post-Arab Spring Middle East order. In his White House statement April 2, Obama said he would convene a conference with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab powers this spring as part of that effort. But the worsening violence in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, where Iranian and Saudi proxies are battling it out, could have an unexpected effect on the effort to reach a final written agreement.
  1. How long everyone talks. If the U.S. and Iran can’t get a final written deal by June 30, an ultimate agreement would depend on whether the two sides agree to keep talking, and writing, anyway. Some administration officials have argued it would be better to keep the talks going than to see a complete collapse. Under the terms of the Nov. 2013 temporary agreement, Iran’s program is frozen and the sanctions are in place. But keeping Congress onside, the sanctions coalition together and the Iranians at the table may be impossible after the next deadline.
TIME Military

U.S. Resumes Weapons Flow to Egypt

An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo
Yannis Behrakis / Reuters A U.S.-built Egyptian F-16 flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters in Tahrir square in Cairo in January 2011.

But the White House announcement wasn't only about weapons

President Obama on Tuesday lifted his nearly two-year ban on shipping American weapons to Egypt, a restriction imposed after its military kicked out its elected government in 2013.

Obama relayed news of the move in a telephone call to Egyptian President (and former Army general) Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. It will allow for the shipment of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles and up to 125 M-1 Abrams tank upgrades. The White House added that the Administration will continue to ask Congress to approve $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

CRSU.S. aid to Egypt is overwhelmingly for new weapons, designated “FMF” (“Foreign Military Financing”).

The resumption of arms shipments to Egypt is in keeping with the growth of U.S. arms sales abroad. Major American weapons exports grew by 23% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on March 16. “The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool,” Aude Fleurant, of SIPRI, said when the group released its annual arms-sales accounting. “But in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure.”

The White House announcement wasn’t only about weapons. “President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” it said in a statement. And, as the Administration drafts proposed legislation to resume military aid to Egypt, it “will not make the so-called ‘democracy certification’ in that legislation,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

In other words, Egypt remains little more than a military junta now wearing civilian clothes, and the White House won’t pretend otherwise.

All this is what diplomats call a return to the status quo ante—the way things were before. Obama is eager to defeat the militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, defeat Islamic fundamentalist uprisings in Libya and Yemen and tamp down Iran’s ambitions—nuclear and otherwise. If he, and the U.S. government, have to cozy up to coup-plotters to achieve that goal, that’s realpolitik.

Cairo has recently suggested it may send ground troops into Yemen to bolster air strikes being carried out there by Saudi Arabia against the Iranian-backed Houthis rebels. Obama is now willing to resume the arms flow to Egypt in hopes of improving relations between the two nations as they join with other countries in a bid to restore stability to the war-racked region.

After nearly 40 years of such aid, the record is not reassuring. “Since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, the United States has provided Egypt with large amounts of military assistance,” the Congressional Research Service reported earlier this month. “U.S. policy makers have routinely justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the treaty—principles that are supposed to be mutually reinforcing.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com