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Nuclear Deal Will Brighten Middle East Prospects

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

As the intense nuclear negotiations enter the crucial phase of drafting the final agreement ahead of the July deadline, speculations abound regarding the implications of this historic development for the broader Middle East, which is currently engulfed in multiple crises. Although the nuclear talks are focused on the strictly nuclear issue, as confirmed by the Iranian and U.S. negotiators, they have also used the opportunity to discuss the non-nuclear and regional issues on the sideline. An incremental improvement in U.S.-Iran relations as a result of a final nuclear deal is therefore likely, its scope and depth depending on a variety of factors such as the fate of next U.S. presidential elections, role and impact of regional players, etc. With respect to Europe, we can safely assume, based on the available data, that the resolution of the nuclear standoff through a final agreement will culminate in a brand new chapter of growing trade and non-trade relations between Iran and the European Union as a whole and with various EU member states, such as Germany, Italy, and France, whose firms are anxiously waiting for the green light to return to Iran. In turn, this will facilitate the Iran-EU dialogue on regional security and can potentially yield certain concrete results in terms of crisis-management, such as with respect to the conflict in Syria.

Concerning Syria, a final nuclear deal will most likely act as a catalyst for Iran's inclusion in the future summits on Syria, already reflected in the official pronouncement of various Western government officials hinting it. Ultimately, a power-sharing scheme along the lines of a new government of national unity may be inevitable in Syria, otherwise the current drift of the country's de facto partition will likely continue and more and more Syrians will suffer and the threats posed by the extremist groups will grow.

One of the key requirements for a post-conflict Syria is a regional dialogue, e.g., between Tehran and Riyadh, given the common threat of Daesh terrorism that mandates a regional solution. So far, Saudi Arabia has ignored Iran's offer of an olive branch and, hopefully, the new Saudi rulers will soon discover the importance of improved relations with their Persian neighbor. At the moment, however, Saudi Arabia and some other members of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) seem determined to make the situation in Syria worse, in part by relying on Turkey as a conduit for the anti-Damascus forces, some of whom are reportedly primed for training by U.S. forces.

But, the prospect of a worsening conflict in Syria and its partition can be held back and logical steps toward restoring peace and tranquility taken in tandem by all the stakeholders in the Syrian theater, particularly if a nuclear deal is finalized and, as expected, generates a new momentum for U.S.-Iran dialogue on regional security issues. Concerning the latter, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has raised the prospect that "other issues" may be discussed after reaching a final nuclear agreement. In other words, a nuclear agreement can be a "win" for not just the two sides in the negotiations but also for the region as a whole. In the case of Iran-Turkey relations, a final deal will unblock the trade and, as expressed by the Iranian and Turkish leaders during the recent Tehran visit of President Erdogan, result in a voluminous increase in import-export between the two neighbors. It is therefore incumbent on Ankara not to take hasty steps in forming an anti-Assad alliance with Saudi Arabia that will erode the ties of friendship and good neighborly relations with Iran. This requires a fine balancing act on Ankara's part that can easily backfire if it appears to Tehran that Turkey has joined an anti-Iran alliance. If Ankara is not careful, it might end up sacrificing long-term gains for the sake of short-term benefits. Commensurate with its hefty regional weight, Turkey should avoid giving the impression of proxy role for Saudi Arabia, which will inevitably harm its prestige, without necessarily gaining much in Syria except an endemic conflict that has already translated into record number of Syrian refugees into Turkey.

With respect to Persian Gulf, the end of the Iran nuclear crisis raises the prospect for lessening the U.S.-Iran tensions and the onset of security dialogue, in light of President Hassan Rouhani's statement during his last New York visit, that Iran is willing to consider cooperation with U.S. against the Daesh (ISIS) terrorists but only after a final deal is reached. Already, a number of GCC states have tacitly supported the nuclear talks and welcomed the prospect of a final agreement, which ought to put to rest their proliferation worries and set the stage for the renewal of trade relations with Iran. Not only that, Iran's initiative of a Persian Gulf security forum will have greater traction once a nuclear deal is reached, which can conceivably include discussions on the Yemen crisis. With regard to the present crisis in Yemen, Iran has proposed a five point plan of action that calls for truce, a humanitarian corridor, mediation and the formation of a government of national unity in Yemen. The longer the Yemen crisis lingers, the greater the threat of Al-Qaeda groups including Daesh, which will in turn increase Saudi Arabia's insecurity. A dangerous power vacuum in Yemen looms large as a result of the relentless Saudi-led attacks, which is counterproductive to Saudi's own national security interests. 

But, with a modicum of political foresight, the Saudis and their regional allies should come to the realization that Tehran after a nuclear deal can be counted on in terms of regional stability and the continuation of their present Iranophobia is unsustainable. As Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently stated, there is no fundamental contradiction between Iran's and Saudi's interests and the two countries ought to be able to manage their relations in a cordial neighborly fashion.

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, Ph.D, is a former political science professor at Tehran University and the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown's Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.

More By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi:

*Yemen and Iran's Role in Regional Crisis Management: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Yemen-and-Iran-s-Role-in-Regional-Crisis-Management.htm

*U.S. Congress Torpedoes the Iran Deal: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/U-S-Congress-Torpedoes-the-Iran-Deal.htm

*Iran and the 2015 NPT Review Conference: Disarmament: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-and-the-2015-NPT-Review-Conference-Disarmament.htm

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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