Requirements for Changing Iran's Behavior Following Nuclear Agreement

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hossein Kebriaeezadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

During the past two weeks, Iran's nuclear agreement has been a focus of attention for those interested in seeing regional convergence in the Middle East. Some people have described the agreement as a positive step toward convergence in the region, but Iran's regional rivals had formed a regional opposition against the agreement even before it was clinched, arguing that the nuclear agreement will increase Iran's regional influence.

Of course, honestly speaking, the nuclear agreement will provided necessary requirements for the presence of a more powerful Iran in the Middle East, but an increase in an actor’s power and influence will not be necessarily synonymous with a parallel rise in threats that the actor may pose to the region. In the meantime, correct measures to be taken by both sides of the agreement will be useful in helping them overcome the existing suspicions and misunderstandings, and can either intensify or rectify understanding of this issue.

In a recent interview with al-Arabiya news network, British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that a major goal of the nuclear agreement is to change Iran's behavior in international and regional environment, but this cannot take place in a hostile milieu riddled with misunderstandings. Changing the behavior of an actor like Iran needs the existence of regional convergence.

With regard to this issue, the West, unlike regional actors, believes that by changing agents of change, the direction and scope of convergence in the region aimed at resolving Middle Eastern crises will undergo a major alteration as well. The question, however, is “will the nuclear deal, on its own, create necessary motivations for convergence among all actors that hold a stake in this regard?”

Iran has already taken steps to create motivations in order to modify the positions of the opponents of Tehran’s nuclear program, and Iranian officials have announced that they are planning to boost nuclear cooperation with all regional countries. However, such an initiative taken within framework of Iran's nuclear diplomacy has so far failed to create the necessary motivations in order to overcome obstructionist efforts against Iran's nuclear agreement.

Nonetheless, implementation of the agreement can change the existing conditions, at least, from a psychological viewpoint. The heavy diplomatic efforts made by Iran and six big world powers were a sign of the high strategic value that international community attaches to Iran. The signals sent in this regard have been specially received by the anti-Iran current in the region.

Therefore, if the policy followed by anti-Iran bloc so far has been to defuse Iran's role and influence in the region, with the change in the international community’s approach and recognition of Iran's nuclear rights, and in view of the impact that the world order will have on the regional subsystem of Middle East, the anti-Iran axis will see it more beneficial to converge with Iran on this issue.

In doing this, the pragmatic Turkish politicians and small states of the Persian Gulf will adapt themselves to regional realities rapidly, while ideology-oriented Saudis will do this more slowly and Egypt will stand somewhere in-between.

Obviously, continuation of Iran's nuclear diplomacy and taking such measures as the establishment of the biggest and the most modern nuclear hospital in the Middle East and West Asia – as announced by head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran – will change the policy of the balance of powers in favor of a new policy of balance of interests. This, in turn, will further facilitate the process of convergence.

Of course, from the viewpoint of an actor like the United States, as a superpower, the balance of powers is more desirable, but commitment to the policy of balance of interests will be to long-term and sustainable benefit of the region and the world. Through this approach, Iran will be more easily incorporated into regional and global political and security systems. Under these conditions, the resultant structure will lead to a change in behavior and overcome the existing centrifugal forces as well.

Another point in this regard is the direction and scope of regionalism in the post-agreement era. According to classic theories of regionalism, which are being currently implemented in the Middle East, regionalism has an intergovernmental quality and is a vertical, top to bottom, process. However, Iran has taken a post-modernist approach to this issue as a result of which, Tehran considers regionalism as a process, which moves from bottom to the top.

This difference in the viewpoints of Iran and the United States will lead to different responses to Iran's cooperation in resolving regional crises. Subsequently, when it comes to the situation in Iraq and despite the fact that annihilation of ISIS is a common goal for both actors, Tehran puts more stress on the role of social currents and forces while Washington believes that this approach has been adopted by Iran to boost its influence in Iraq once ISIS is defeated.

What said above is also true about the crisis in Syria except that Iran does not consider the opposition that is fighting against President Bashar Assad’s government as arising from national will of the Syrian people. Tehran believes that the Syrian opposition is made up of proxy groups, which are trying on behalf of regional and transregional actors to topple the government of Assad. From the viewpoint of Tehran, the crisis in Syria has led to considerable growth of extremism in the region.

Apart from ideological issues, the aforesaid different viewpoints and theoretical discrepancies have caused political approaches and actions of Iran and the West with regard to regional issues to drift away from each other. It was as a result of this issue that Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said in his latest position during his Eid al-Fitr sermons that the nuclear agreement will cause no change in Iran's position vis-à-vis the United States in the region.

It follows that taking advantage of Iran's capacity for the resolution of the ongoing crises in the Middle East and entire region requires proximity between the two sides’ viewpoints and a change in the West’s strategy on regionalism as well as changes in regional cooperation models through revision of Washington’s old formulas for the Middle East. If dialogue and diplomacy turn into a regular procedure and tradition following the recent agreement, relations between the two sides will predictably provide an opportunity for change and modification in this sphere.

Key Words: Iran's Behavior, Change, Nuclear Agreement, Middle East, US, Regional Influence, Syria, Iraq, Scope of Regionalism, Post-Agreement Era, Transregional Actors, Kebriaeezadeh

More By Hossein Kebriaeezadeh:

*ISIS, a Tough Test for Iran's Foreign Policy:

*Win-Win Nuclear Deal Maintains Discourse Balance in Iran:

*Iran-Oman Relations, a Role Model for Other Persian Gulf States:

*Photo Credit: Live Middle East Radio