These Five People Will Make or Break an Iran Nuclear Deal

Deal or no deal? These 5 leaders will decide.

For the diplomats who have been stuck in a room trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, it’s crunch time. After seventeen months of high-fraught, nail-biting negotiations that included an interim agreement and several extensions, P5+1 and Iranian negotiators are roughly four weeks away from a late March deadline that they themselves set for a comprehensive agreement. If all goes according to plan, the world will know by April 1 how many centrifuges Tehran will be allowed to keep; how large Iran’s uranium-enrichment stockpile will be; how quickly U.S. and international sanctions will be lifted; how frequently verification and monitoring will happen and how long the verification regime will last.

All of these issues have ruined negotiations in the past, and there is nothing guaranteeing that the same problems won’t ruin them today. Indeed, based on public reports that have leaked out of the negotiating room, Tehran is looking to retain a far greater number of centrifuges than the P5+1 is willing to allow. The fact that two six-month extensions have already been used exemplifies just how complicated these negotiations have been.

If Iran and the P5+1 are unable to come to a compromise by the upcoming deadline, there’s a high probability that the talks will be break into a million tiny pieces. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have all declared that a third extension would not be useful. “[T]he issues now are sufficiently narrowed and sufficiently clarified where we’re at point where they [the Iranians] need to make a decision,” President Obama said in a joint press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

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In other words, there will be no more extensions. The fate of the Iran nuclear talks—a year and a half in the making—rests on the next several weeks. And, it rests on the actions and decisions that the following people will make.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

If Iran’s top decision maker on foreign- and national-security policy wants the nuclear talks to succeed, they will likely succeed. But, if he refuses to authorize the types of nuclear concessions that need to be made, all of Javad Zarif’s work will be for naught.

As the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the most important post in Iran’s political system. Therefore, his comments on the ongoing nuclear negotiations are especially important. No agreement can be officially signed into the history books without Khamenei’s go-ahead, and there’s history to prove it. In the fall of 2009, then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed in principle to ship all of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium to a third country for conversion into fuel for Tehran’s nuclear reactor. Yet, when Ahmadinejad came back to Iran with the proposal, Khamenei nixed the concept, in part due to the vocal objections of hardliners in the Iranian parliament.

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Khamenei has kept his cards close to his chest throughout the talks in Vienna, a reality that has raised more questions than answers as to what the Supreme Leader really thinks about the venture. In July 2014, Khamenei stated that Iran would eventually need a capacity of 190,000 centrifuges for an industrial-size nuclear program for the country. Yet seven months later, he commented to Iranian media that he would “go along with any agreement that could be made,” as long as it served Iran’s national interest.

It’s simple: if Khamenei accepts the terms that are struck in Vienna, Iran and the United States will have made history. If he doesn’t, the standoff could get a lot worse.

Bob Corker

As the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker holds perhaps the most weighty position in the U.S. Congress as far as Iran’s nuclear talks are concerned. Although members of Congress don’t have a place at the negotiating table in Geneva, lawmakers like Sen. Corker have consistently pressed the White House and the State Department to provide as few concessions to the Iranians as possible. The Congress—Republicans and Democrats alike—takes President Obama’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra incredibly seriously, and Senator Corker is often the one leading the charge.

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