It is always hard to predict how historians will judge current events. But the rough draft for any future tally of the Middle East in 2013 must include the Geneva agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, the bloody and escalating war in Syria – and fading hopes for a happy end to the other Arab spring uprisings.
Hassan Rouhani’s election as Iranian president in June started a process which led to November’s landmark deal with the US and five other countries. That offered relief from crippling economic sanctions in return for a reduction in the uranium enrichment that fuelled suspicions of Iran’s ambitions (which it denies) to acquire nuclear weapons.
It is an interim agreement and faces opposition from hardliners in Tehran who mistrust the emollient Rouhani, Republicans in Washington and hawks in Jerusalem, where Israel – anxious to maintain its monopoly of (undeclared) nuclear weapons – was ignored by Barack Obama. If successful, it will end the risk of a pre-emptive Israeli or US attack. But beyond that lies an even bigger prize – an easing of three decades of hostility between Washington and Tehran following the 1979 Islamic revolution – though other disagreements will be difficult to reconcile if a much-vaunted “grand bargain” is to be struck between these old enemies.
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