In what appears—on the surface—to be a positive and dramatic reversal of the recent trend of escalation in the Persian Gulf, it was reported on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump informed his Cabinet of “significant progress” with Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added that “for the first time the Iranians are ready to also discuss their ballistic missile program.”
The continuation of Iran’s long-range ballistic-missile program, as a reminder, was one of the primary reasons for America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal signed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. There’s no point to stalling Iran’s production of a nuclear bomb by a few years while simultaneously allowing the Iranians to continue to develop delivery systems for said bomb.
Is Tehran folding? Has the path to a new deal, which will not only stop the nuclear program but also missile development and regional subversion, indeed been paved? Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday supposedly indicated that Tehran had altered its position, saying that if the United States wants to talk about Iran’s missiles, it needs to “first stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region,” referencing Saudi Arabia.
But the Iranian mission to the United Nations rushed to issue a clarification that Zarif’s comment was purely hypothetical.
“Our missile program,” the statement said, “isn’t up for negotiation.”
It’s possible the optimistic reports emanating from Washington about Tehran’s change of course were premature, but one thing is certain: In the wake of Iran’s many belligerent comments and provocative actions, over the past week a relative calm has prevailed in the Persian Gulf. Zarif was approved to enter the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York, and Iran tempered its threats following the seizure of its oil tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Both sides, it seems, are looking for a way to talk without it appearing like surrender or a unilateral concession.
It’s unclear whether the formula for resolving the crisis has been found, but one good thing has already emerged: The optimistic leaks from the White House have caused global oil prices to plummet.
Oded Granot is a journalist and international commentator on the Middle East.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.