In March 2012, Tehran and Washington and its allies agreed to resume negotiations on the nuclear issue without preconditions. However, the prospects for a successful outcome are doubtful given the two sides' distrust and fundamental antagonisms. Moreover, the US and its partners have not balanced their tightening coercive policies with positive inducements to encourage Iran to reach a peaceful accommodation. In the absence of any olive branch, the broadening sanctions, accelerating pace of covert operations, and repeated threats of military attack could only be interpreted by Iranian leaders as indicators that the US and its partners have no serious interest in a negotiated solution to the nuclear program.
In this report, we review developments in the Middle East between 2010 and early 2012, and provide our personal views on how the United States can persuade Iran to negotiate limitations on its nuclear program that can hold it reliably short of a weapons capability, without instigating a new war in the Middle East. We review the status of Iran's nuclear and missile programs, the effects of sanctions and other coercive measures, the status of internal politics in Iran and the United States, and, most importantly, the populist movements that are transforming governance and alliances in North Africa and the Middle East, with particular emphasis on the continuing struggle in Syria.