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Talk With Iran Now. Time Is Fleeting.

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The momentous protests in Iran this autumn came at a delicate time in a tense standoff between the United States and Iran. Despite the recent prisoner swap, officials in Washington may see the prospects for diplomacy dimming. But that would be wrong. Iranian elections are coming, and without any American agreement to relent on sanctions, the current relatively conciliatory government might well lose all its influence in favor of far more confrontational hard-liners.
That calculus makes this exactly the time to take diplomacy seriously. While the opportunity for success may be slim, failing to reverse rising tensions now risks a serious escalation in frictions that would be more impervious to diplomacy down the road.
At first glance, it appears that Washington and Tehran have drawn diametrically opposed interpretations of the upheaval’s causes and consequences, rendering any effort at de-escalation unlikely. The unrest, triggered by an abrupt hike in fuel prices, quickly evolved into a violent nationwide revolt against the ruling order. The Trump administration saw the austerity measure as a direct result of its “maximum pressure” policy, and cried success. In their minds, the stifling impact of sanctions had prompted public ire, and could soon persuade Iran’s leaders to alter their domestic and foreign policies in order to retain power.

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Professors Nasr and Vaez are policy experts in Washington who focus on the Middle East.

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