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March 5, 2015

U.S. and Iran seek nuclear deal despite huge hurdles, a Stanford scholar says

Stanford Iran expert Abbas Milani says Iranian leadership is split over making a nuclear deal, while the United States may face stiff opposition from Congress before an end-of-March deadline for an outline of an agreement.

By Clifton B. Parker

Iran expert Abbas Milani says he is "cautiously optimistic" about an agreement that would eliminate Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons and end economic sanctions against the country. (Photo: ruskpp/Shutterstock)

"Cautiously optimistic" is how Stanford's Abbas Milani describes the possibility of a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran.

The United States and Iran face an end-of-March target to reach the outline of a deal that would eliminate Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons. Key issues include the length of the agreement and the relief of economic sanctions for Iran.

Milani is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution. His expertise is U.S.-Iran relations and Iranian cultural, political and security issues. Milani taught in Tehran University's law and political science programs before coming to the United States.

In a recent interview with Stanford News Service, he discussed the prospects of a U.S.-Iran deal:


Are you optimistic or pessimistic about a final deal between the United States and Iran, and why?

I am cautiously optimistic that a deal will be made. Both sides, for different reasons, wish to reach a deal, and thus my optimism. Both sides face serious obstacles to the very idea of a deal, and so I am cautious as well.


What are the perspectives of the Iranian leadership on such a deal? Do some factions seek a deal, while others want to avoid one?

Iranian politicians are certainly split over the virtues of a deal and what a good deal should entail. An overwhelming majority of the people are in favor of a deal and an end to sanctions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hashemi Rafsanjani [a former Iranian president] and a large number of reformists favor the deal.

But radical elements in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and in the parliament are opposed to any nuclear deal. So, they have done their best to torpedo the deal by threatening Israel and the U.S.


Are the broad outlines of the U.S. proposed deal – freezing Iranian nuclear activities for at least 10 years – likely to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons?

The outlines of the deal, as far as I know, are a freeze on aspects of Iran's nuclear program, and a possible partial rollback on the amount of enriched uranium Iran has stockpiled. The idea of a complete dismantlement of all enrichment activities seems a non-starter for the Islamic regime.

Only rigorous inspections and international vigilance, along with domestic pressure from the democratic forces inside Iran who see the follies of the past intransigence, can ensure that Iran does not go down the path of "weaponizing" nuclear materials.


What was the impact of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's talk before Congress on a possible deal? How does it play in Iran?

The speech will not, in my view, have a transformative impact on the possibility of a deal. It will certainly make President Obama's job of selling the deal to the U.S. Congress more difficult.

Back in Iran, those in favor of a deal point to Netanyahu's objections as a sign that the deal is indeed a good one. Opponents of the deal in Iran dismiss the talk to the joint session as a good cop/bad cop ploy.



Abbas Milani, Iranian Studies: (650) 721-4052,

Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,


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