Nuclear deal with Iran creates space and channels for U.S. to challenge Iran's aggressive foreign operations
The nuclear deal with Iran was narrowly focused on just solving the nuclear issue as it was felt that other issues would bog down the negotiations. If the deal is completed, both sides have indicated that they are open to futher discussions on other issues, including Iran's foreign policy in the region.
To answer the question of what to do about Iran's activities, it is important to understand that the nuclear agreement, while it has little to do with Iran's arms transfers or extracurricular activities in the region, can lay the groundwork for a far more serious engagement about Iran's role in the region -- and in a manner that addresses head-on the concerns of its Sunni neighbors, many of whom are eager to resume longstanding trading relationships with Iran.
The reality is that Iran's reemergence into the international community in a postnuclear deal environment would allow the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to assert its interests in the region, and to lay out expectations of Iran as a constructive partner.
It might even lead to quiet, back-channel diplomacy about the future of Syria without al-Assad.
None of this is possible in the absence of the nuclear deal. Once Iran begins to navigate its relationships as more than the isolated, nuclear-threshold pariah state it currently is, there will be less tolerance internationally for destabilizing arms transfers and the training of would-be insurgents.
And there is no need to rely on Iran's word that it will refrain from such activities. As U.N. Security Council resolutions are rewritten to lift the ban on uranium enrichment in Iran, the ban on Iranian arms transfers can and should remain in place, with U.N. member states required to report to the Security Council any violations of that ban by Iran.
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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.
Within the Obama administration, there is hope that the nuclear agreement itself will prove to be an opening for further points of discussion on other issues, and that in the meantime Iran will spend much of its newly restored billions on nonviolent domestic priorities.
“When one deals with adversaries, [when] we’re trying to reduce the risk that all of us face, whether from nuclear weapons or acts of terrorism, you will have to make agreements about certain things with countries with whom you do not agree,” said Stephen Rapp, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues. “One can hope that if we reach an agreement in one area that’s in our interest, and in theirs, then that may [open] up the possibilities for other areas of engagement."
The deal itself will offer plenty of opportunities to improve relations, said Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The agreement will require U.S. and Iranian diplomats to continue talking to each other as the deal is implemented and monitored, opening up numerous opportunities for consultation and coordination on other issues, he said.
"We shouldn't forget, they didn't talk hardly at all before," Pillar said.
Open diplomacy between Iran and the USA will make it easier to bring Iran on board to find a political solution in the fighting in Syria and Iraq, Pillar said. With a nuclear deal done, "it makes it somewhat politically easier for the Obama administration to say we expect the Iranians at the table," he said.
The nuclear deal between world powers and Iran offers the prospect that the United States and the Islamic Republic may embark on a new, less hostile relationship after 36 years of open enmity.
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