Next year could prove to be a pivotal one for Iran, both internally and in its relations with the outside world.
While the interim nuclear agreement between Tehran and global powers was groundbreaking, the United States and Iran appear to have a fundamental mismatch in expectations regarding a comprehensive deal: Washington expects Tehran to make great nuclear compromises, while Tehran expects Washington to lift all sanctions.
In lieu of a final deal, it’s plausible another interim deal could be reached which keeps diplomacy alive and conflict at bay at least until 2015.
It also remains to be seen whether a nuclear detente with Tehran will foster greater US-Iran cooperation on regional issues.
As of yet, there are few tangible signs that Tehran is preparing to modify longstanding revolutionary principles such as resistance against America and the rejection of Israel’s existence.
In this context, it’s unlikely we will see a fundamental shift in Iranian policies that are problematic to both regional countries and the United States, such as support for Hizbollah or the Assad regime in Syria.
An important but neglected development in Iran internally is the seeming re-emergence of the country’s civil society and middle classes, which have been resuscitated by Hassan Rouhani’s election and are putting grassroots pressure on the government to respect civil liberties at home and carry out rapprochement with the outside world.
Given that very powerful factions in Iran have much to lose in the context of such an opening, it will be key to see whether supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei ultimately throws his weight behind pragmatists who favour detente, or hardliners who feel threatened by change.