Will it Play in Persepolis

Publication Date: 
November 2014
Description: 
Foreign Policy.com
Project: 
Nuclear Past, Present and Future Project
Security Cooperation with Iran: Challenges and Opportunities
The Program for Public Consultation
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

For the first time in more than a decade, the United States and Iran are both pushing hard to resolve their long-standing disagreements about Tehran's nuclear program. Making that investment in nuclear diplomacy pay off requires bold leadership -- and an understanding of public opinion in both countries.

Shortly after President Hassan Rouhani took office, negotiators from Iran and six world powers (the P5+1) agreed on the elements of a solution "to ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful," as the Joint Plan of Action states. But as the Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a comprehensive deal approaches, large gaps remain between the parties on the scope, timing, and duration of an agreement. We can't ignore the role of public opinion in bridging those gaps: Both President Barack Obama and Rouhani will be more likely to take political risks to reach an agreement if they think that the terms would have broad public support.

To the extent that public opinion in Iran influences policy decisions, it supports the types of transparency and confidence-building measures that Tehran has already taken. However, Iranians do not support the much tighter limitations on nuclear capabilities that some U.S. experts consider necessary to ensure that Iran could not "break out" of an agreement and amass a bomb's worth of fissile material in less than a year -- one metric that U.S. officials have used to quantify whether a deal would be acceptable.