Failure can sometimes be a success – at least if it's not permanent.
Last Friday, there was a fleeting hope that the negotiations in Geneva between a group of six powers (known as P5+1) and Iran on that country's nuclear program would reach an interim agreement at the end of that very day. If such an agreement had been reached so quickly and easily, after so many years of stasis, frustration and (on the Iranian government's part) evasiveness and dissimulation, it would almost certainly have been a defective and dangerous arrangement.
Mohammed Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, rejected the proposed agreement because it did not grant to Iran a "right" to enrich uranium.
There can be no inherent or natural right to enrich uranium. It is not at all like life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is in violation of it. Although the treaty does say that the parties have an inalienable right (a rash, ill-considered bit of drafting) to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, that passage is unmistakably set inside the framework of the treaty as a whole. And that treaty is about restricting the spread of nuclear weapons.
The NPT requires the parties – other than the five permanent members of the Security Council, all of whom already had nuclear weapons when the treaty came into force – to enter into agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency to establish safeguards and provide verification that they are in compliance.
Iran's unwillingness to provide anything approaching adequate verification makes it eminently suspect. Any right under the treaty has indeed been "alienated" by Iran itself. Consequently, the country is not allowed to keep enriching uranium or plutonium.
The Israelis and several Arab states worry that the Americans are too eager for any agreement, even one that fails to fully halt Iran's nuclear-weapons program. However, there has been no appeasement. Moreover, Iran's fiscal problems give it an acute need for some partial relief from sanctions. The West has leverage in these negotiations.
It is good that the talks will resume on Nov. 20. Some progress has been made in the past couple of months, but the six powers may still have a long road ahead of them, before there is any satisfactory agreement that gives real assurance to Iran's neighbours, and the rest of the world.