Opinion has been bitterly divided on the merits of even seeking a deal with Tehran. Many on Capitol Hill, for example, have appeared to oppose any deal, preferring – if you strip away their arguments – to seek regime change in Tehran. In contrast, the overwhelming verdict of nuclear and arms control experts is that diplomacy has delivered a result. Those are the goals that have animated recent American diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear issue, including during the back-channel talks with Iran that I led in Oman and other quiet venues in 2013. Against a backdrop of 35 years without sustained diplomatic contact, filled with mutual suspicion and grievance, it was hardly surprising that our discussions were difficult, and our Iranian counterparts as tough-minded and skeptical as they were professionally skilled. But our efforts helped set the stage for the interim agreement, or Joint Plan of Action, concluded in November 2013.
In an indication of how fraught the discussions had become, Fabius left the talks on Tuesday in the middle of the night, ostensibly to attend a cabinet meeting. But diplomats said the negotiations had become too complicated and it was “not for him to haggle over centrifuges”. A few months before Iran’s June 2013 presidential election, in a secret meeting between Khamenei and a small group of top officials, the issue of who should succeed Ahmadinejad was discussed. They all agreed on Rouhani.