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Iran nuclear deal could lead to cooperation in fight against Daesh.

There is a Grand Deal waiting to be done between the US and Iran, if they can arrive at an agreement over Tehran's troubled nuclear programme. Such an accord may infuriate the Saudis -- and it will certainly alarm many members of the US Congress -- but it will be very useful to the worried American commanders in the region and it will transform the efforts to restrain and stamp out Al Qaida and Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). This week, there was an intriguing report that Iran's Major General Qasim Sulaimani has been seen in close alliance with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. For the commander of the Quds Brigade, a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard who operate outside Iran and are widely regarded as highly effective, to be working with the Peshmerga puts him right alongside the American forces in an astonishing joint alliance with the Iraqi and Kurdish forces against Daesh.

The urgency of winning the military struggle against Daesh will encourage the Americans on the ground to work with anyone who can help, but Iran is also an important long-term ally who could help American interests on many fronts: In encouraging their Shiite client politicians in Baghdad to become more inclusive (so giving Iran lingering influence in a larger Iraq); by helping restrict the gathering chaos in Afghanistan because even if concerns about a Taliban advance have dropped off everyone's map at the moment, the Taliban are still waiting to test the resolve of the new Afghan government. In addition, Iran has extensive networks throughout the Arab world from which, if it could be persuaded to pull back, the entire region would benefit. The Arab world would be very different if Iran felt it was an acknowledged part of the wider region's politics and it stopped working in the shadows to seek influence by supporting Hezbollah, Al Houthis, Hamas and other smaller groups around the region such as they are doing in Bahrain.

But all these good things have to start with an agreement over the controversial nuclear programme, which Iran needs to prove is not military. Reports from the negotiations indicate that a deal is in sight even if both sides are playing it as tough as they can, so as to maximise the impact of the necessary give and take to reach a final agreement. The technical issues seem to be working out, but the final push required before the November 24 deadline has to be political and that is where there is a problem.

A major challenge for the Americans is that Iran has lived with sanctions for so long that it is largely inured to their effects and should be able to stagger on almost indefinitely as long as the oil price stays high. Nonetheless, the reality is that Iran's economy is suffering and a rush of international investment will transform the country's prosperity and greatly strengthen the status of the conservative internationalists led by President Hassan Rouhani (accompanied by the liberals like former president Mohammad Khatami) against the hardline conservatives of whom former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a particularly aggressive example.

But Rouhani will need a substantial "win" to be able to go back to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and persuade him that a deal is a good thing. He will face deeply felt opposition from the hardline conservatives and parliament and he will need to start a multi-faceted campaign throughout Iran's rambling political structure that such a dramatic move as making peace with the Americans is necessary. The real problem is that Rouhani will have to make clear that making a deal does not mean surrender and he has to persuade his fellow Iranian politicians that a deal is not against the core values of the Islamic Revolution.

This will be very difficult when large numbers of US Congressmen will be looking forward to having a very similar argument with President Barack Obama's administration. They see no reason to give into Iran and will not want to give any credence or support to a perceived Iranian "win". Obama will find it hard to get the necessary votes to endorse his proposed deal with Iran, even if the newly biddable Congress has agreed that he can send troops into Iraq and possibly Syria as required.

A new team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will go to Tehran in a few days and the IAEA has reported that Iran has failed to answer questions by an agreed August 25 deadline on explosives testing and neutron calculations -- both of which activities could be applicable to any attempt to make nuclear bombs. More than 300 US Congressmen leapt at the opportunity to sign a letter mocking US Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts.

Nonetheless, good people are working hard to find a way to make this important deal work. It is good news that Iranian and American negotiators met on the fringes of the recent United Nations General Assembly, even though no details emerged. Rouhani told the media later: "There is a serious intent, which is quite evident to perceive even through the words. Serious will does exist [in reference to the nuclear talks]." We need Obama to say the same.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Oct 9, 2014
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