Nuclear deal with Iran will not further destabilize region
The risk that the Iran nuclear deal will further destabilize the region is mitigated by U.S. efforts to manage the situation by working with its allies in the region to contain Iran's aggressive behavior and ease tensions over U.S.-Iranian rapproachment. Additionally, Iran has much to gain from the nuclear deal and will be hesitant to do anything that will risk it.
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Progress on cooperation with Iran need not – and will not – come at the expense of regional partners. The benefits of increased cooperation could be significant, but seizing those opportunities could also feed anxieties in Israel and the Gulf that the United States is acquiescing to Iranian hegemony or plan- ning a fundamental reorientation of Washington’s geopolitical alignments. At the very least, any cooperation with Iran will have to be accompanied by extensive U.S. consultation with regional partners and paired with efforts in other areas to push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities. It may also necessitate creating regional security forums in which U.S. and Iranian discussions are nested within multilateral dialogues involving other regional stakeholders.
The U.S. experience with West Germany during the Cold War offers important lessons for its current approach toward Saudi Arabia. Just like West Germany, Saudi Arabia depends on the United States and its partners for arms, training, and support.
As a result, Washington could credibly threaten a military embargo to deter Riyadh from acquiring nuclear weapons, exploiting Saudi officials’ existing anxieties about how committed the U.S. is to their country’s security. Moreover, an embargo threat would be backed by U.S. law, which forbids U.S. military or economic aid to any country that acquires nuclear explosive devices.
In principle, Riyadh could try to discourage a military embargo by threatening to cut off or cut down the supply of oil to the United States. But rapid growth in North American hydrocarbon production has reduced U.S. dependence on oil imports, undermining Saudi Arabia’s economic leverage.
To be sure, the two situations are not precisely the same. Unlike West Germany, Saudi Arabia does not rely on U.S. troops or nuclear weapons to protect its territorial integrity, and it can seek advanced armaments from suppliers other than the United States.
Finding adequate substitutes for U.S. conventional arms will be difficult, however, because Saudi Arabia’s existing stocks of U.S. military hardware are not necessarily interoperable with hardware from other countries, and because these systems rely on U.S. spare parts and technical assistance to remain functional. If the U.S. decides to end its military assistance and cooperation, it could cripple Saudi Arabia’s military forces.
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As this analysis suggests, I believe that Iran’s most likely course after a nuclear agreement will be to continue to pursue the same regional strategy it has pursued over the past three years. That strategy is inimical to the interests of the United States and its allies in many ways. However, there is a much greater danger: the danger that Iran will interpret American behavior after a nuclear agreement as a sign of further disengagement from the Middle East. If that is the case, it is highly likely that Iranian goals will become more expansive and its policy more aggressive as it believes that the U.S. will not be as willing (or able) to block Iranian moves. Thus, the most important variable in Iranian regional behavior after a deal may well prove to be the U.S. reaction, rather than anything derived from Iranian strategy or politics itself.
Persian Gulf Arab states on Monday publicly endorsed the Iran nuclear deal during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who said the United States would step up arms sales and intelligence-sharing to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region.
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