Testimony of Martin Indyk: "U.S. Policy in the Middle East after a Nuclear Deal with Iran"
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Taking up that challenge will be essential because of the potential impact of sanctions relief on Iran’s regional behavior. Once sanctions are removed, Iran will be the beneficiary of the unfreezing of some $120 billion of assets; its oil revenues are likely to increase by some $20- 24 billion annually. It is reasonable to assume that a good part of that windfall will be used to rehabilitate Iran’s struggling economy and fulfill the expectations of Iran’s people for a better life. But it is an equally safe bet that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS), and the Iranian Armed Forces will be beneficiaries too. It’s true that punishing sanctions have not prevented these extensions of the Iranian revolution from exploiting the upheavals in the region and the collapse of state institutions to build positions of considerable influence across the Sunni Arab world from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq and now Yemen. Nevertheless, Iran’s hegemonic ambitions are likely to be boosted by the availability of more resources. For example, the Assad regime in Syria is struggling to survive economically at the same time as it is losing control of more territory to opposition forces; a timely infusion of cash and arms might help it cling to power. Similarly, Iraq’s Shia militias, which are armed and trained by Iran, could be boosted at a time when the United States is struggling under Iraqi government constraints to arm and train Sunni militias and Kurdish forces.
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Mr. Chairman, a credible nuclear agreement will provide an extended breathing space for the United States and our regional allies free from the threat of a nuclear Iran that should last beyond the next administration and probably the one after that. It will nevertheless raise many concerns in the Middle East about Iran’s destabilizing behavior and hegemonic ambitions that the United States cannot address in the agreement itself but will have to address outside the agreement. In my view, that is not a justification for opposing the agreement. It is rather a reason for complementing the agreement with a robust effort to promote a regional security strategy that takes advantage of the respite to begin to rebuild a more stable order in this chaotic but still vital region.
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If these potential consequences are so great, why haven’t they been addressed in the nuclear deal itself? There are good reasons. The Iranians were keen to include regional issues in the negotiations because they believed it would be advantageous to them to offer the United States a “grand bargain,” exchanging regional cooperation in Syria and Iraq, for example, in return for lowering American requirements for curbs on their nuclear program. The American negotiators wisely rejected this attempt at linkage. In addition, our Gulf Arab allies feared that their regional interests would be sacrificed on the altar of a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal and insisted that the United States had no business discussing regional issues with their strategic adversary when they were not represented in the negotiations. Consequently, there is nothing in the agreement itself that constrains Iran’s regional behavior. But by the same token there is nothing in the agreement that constrains the United States and its regional allies from taking steps to contain and roll-back Iran’s hegemonic regional ambitions and counter its nefarious activities there. Ten-to-fifteen years of an Iran under intense scrutiny and constrained from acquiring nuclear weapons provides a significant breathing space for its regional opponents, backed by the United States, to build an effective counterweight.
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President Obama has already taken the first step in this effort through the Camp David summit he hosted with our Gulf Arab allies last month. That was an important first step in providing them with the necessary strategic reassurance in the face of the uncertain consequences of the nuclear deal on Iran’s behavior in their neighborhood. In the joint communiqué, the President reiterated a U.S. “unequivocal” commitment to “deter and confront external aggression against our allies and partners in the Gulf.” The two sides also agreed on a new strategic partnership that would “fast-track” arms transfers, enhance cooperation on counterterrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity, and ballistic missile defense, and develop rapid response capabilities to regional threats. The communiqué and its annex provide all the understandings necessary for laying the foundations of an effective regional security architecture. However, those words will need to be translated into concrete actions at a time when the regional turmoil is generating competing priorities and interests. The GCC states are not united in their approach to the region’s problems and they will continue to fear an American-Iranian rapprochement at their expense no matter how reassuring the President’s words. Nevertheless, the combination of the nuclear deal, a potentially more potent Iranian adversary, and rising instability on their borders, should concentrate their minds and therefore could create the necessary conditions for an effective strategic partnership with the United States that was called forth at Camp David. If they are willing to get their acts together, we should certainly be willing to respond with a determined effort.