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The Middle East Reacts to the Iran Deal

The ripple effects of a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 may instigate geopolitical waves in the Middle East.

It appears that after a 12-year impasse, Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — have reached an agreement on key parameters of a framework for a final nuclear deal, which would be hammered out by June 30. Though nothing is set in stone, the tentative accord reached on April 2 should be considered a “critical milestone” in dealing with an ascending Iran. It can also be viewed as a fortunate starting point for bringing a semblance of control over the cauldron of fire called the Middle East.

But aside from the growing euphoria among those who portray the existing framework as either the end of Iran-US antagonism or as giving Tehran a free ticket into the international community, it is important not to turn a blind eye over a range of tricky questions that must be dealt with prudently, in order to prevent this diplomatic breakthrough from falling to pieces.

The Deal Breeds Domestic Pressure

According to the Lausanne framework, Iran will be subject to the most intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime ever devised. But while nuclear-related sanctions and UN Security Council resolutions are to be lifted immediately if a final nuclear deal is signed, one should not forget that US sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses and ballistic missiles will remain in place. This is not good news, particularly for those Iranians and international observers who worry about the country’s human rights status.

All in all, many skeptics and hard-liners inside Iran have already begun railing against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his team of diplomats and advisers for the sweeping concessions they have given to the West. Hossein Shariatmadari, an ultra-conservative and an aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has reportedly said that Iran exchanged its “ready-to-race horse with a broken bridle.”

In the United States, hawks seem to be vocal about the Lausanne accord. Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican who holds Barack Obama’s former seat from Illinois, struck a similar tone, saying: “Neville Chamberlain got a better deal from Adolf Hitler.”

With these hawkish voices in mind, it remains to be seen whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Barack Obama will be able to convince the Iranian Majlis and the US Congress that this tentative nuclear détente is the only viable alternative to curb Iran’s nuclear power. Having said this, selling the parameters to the public and manufacturing the consent of cynics is by no means an easy job.

John Kerry and Javad Zarif / Flickr

John Kerry and Javad Zarif / Flickr

The Deal Has Regional Geopolitical Dimensions

Even in the case of a full agreement between Iran and the P5+1, no one can assuredly say that the Saudis, Israelis and perhaps the rest of Middle East’s major players — namely Turkey — will sit idly by and do nothing in the face of Tehran’s growing influence.

It is interesting to note that it was only a day before the Lausanne joint statement when Turkey’s General Assembly approved an international agreement between Ankara and Tokyo for the construction of Turkey’s second nuclear plant. Saudi Arabia has also signaled that it may consider launching its own nuclear program as a hedge against Iran’s nuclear prowess.

That aside, what is happening in Yemen is a vivid example of Saudi Arabia’s preemptive geopolitical maneuvering against Iran. The balance of power in the Middle East appears poised to undergo tectonic changes as regional actors shift alliances, adjust to new realities and, by doing so, recalibrate their positions in a Sunni-Shiite fight for geopolitical mastery in the region.

The West and Iran

As soon as the sweat dried on the foreheads of exhausted diplomats in Switzerland, some Iranians rushed to celebrate what they termed as reconciliation between Iran and the West, in general, and between Iran and the US, in particular.

However, one must note that shortly after the framework agreement was unveiled, President Obama made it clear that “this deal was not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.” The first paragraph of the US fact sheet outlining the parameters of the agreement also stipulates that “important implementation details are still subject to negotiation, and nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon.” Ayatollah Khamenei, for his part, has also cautioned that “negotiations with Americans are solely on the nuclear issue and nothing else. Everyone has to know that.”

So, as Tehran appears to be groping toward Washington’s strategic orbit, thanks to the tentative nuclear accord as well as the recent Iranian offensive against the Islamic State, it seems very unlikely that even a final deal could put to rest the decades-long animosity between the two sides.

Indeed, lots of work must be done before the June 30 deadline. But so much hinges on the extent to which both sides are committed to rein in internal and external pressures, and most importantly, on whether they are fully prepared to withstand and surmount the geopolitical repercussions of a deal, which has already set alarm bells ringing in Riyadh and Tel Aviv and perhaps Ankara.

The Iranian nuclear marathon may seem to have reached a critical milestone, but the finish line remains many miles away.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit:  US Department of State / Flickr


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