Iran Nuclear Deal Likely to Increase US Regional Leverage

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by Jim Lobe

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear program could significantly enhance US leverage and influence throughout the greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior US officials and regional experts released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for US Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards cooperation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive (regional) priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published in the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former US National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats.

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the US, UK, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the UN General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear program.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, large gaps remain, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (IS, ISIS or ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the US—which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group—as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report, which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… (to reduce) the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such cooperation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions—US airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers—to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan from which US and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of the government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

It is no secret that the US and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the UN.

Lesser known is the fact that “the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and US Special Forces” during that campaign, he said.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some cooperation between Iran and the US is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report.

Until now, Iran has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to US and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career.

In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key US regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as US ambassador to Israel and the UN, among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” according to the report.

Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks to the press in Baghdad, Iraq on Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: State Department

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

3 Comments

  1. So the showdown @ the O.K. corral; in New York City starts Thursday. ZBig with friends are ion the plus corner to get a deal done, which must be at odds with some of the other big guns here in the U.S. who will pull out the stops as they go screaming into the night that the sky is falling if a deal is struck. I suppose that the world will have to live with what ever is decided, even if some think otherwise. Hopefully, there wont be any actions by any country who may feel slighted, at the expense of their own civilian populations safety.

  2. With all due respect Jim, Tehran is a long way from developing a bomb and their military posture is and has always been defensive.

    If Tehran were to come up with a bomb it would be of ancient technology. The Americans also have them surrounded with the highest tech anti missile systems in the world.

    If an Iranian bomb was so scary why isn’t Vlad shaking in his boots?

    And Iran and the US while talking mean about each other for their streets, do business very well when it is seen to be in both of their vested interests to do so. The deal that got Maliki removed was the latest.

    Historically when “W” removed Saddam he also removed Iran’s greatest enemy who killed 3/4 of a million of its people. And when Washington replaced him with Maliki that was a back door deal made with Tehran.

    As the Institute for the Study of War said ‘Iran participated in the formation of the post-Taliban government in the Bonn Conference in December 2001 and contributed to reconstruction efforts, with the aim of establishing friendly ties with Kabul.”

    That does not mean that Iran wants US hegemony in the region, just that they have long been business partners there. And based on geography no matter how the talks go, this is going to continue.

  3. The USA has not yet digested the humiliation of been kicked out of Iran, it has also not digested the other blow to its ego with 9/11.
    The present two enemies on which USA is seeking revenge are Iran and the Islamists. During the bloody Iran-Iraq war, it has supported ‘secular’ Saddam Hossein with the consequences that we know. Later it applied heavy sanctions on Iran to weaken it and humiliate it to submission. All has failed.
    With the Islamists, it has made a huge and costly war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and in Iraq against the Islamists, to see them popping up again and stronger in Iraq and Syria. Another failure.

    USA thriving for revenge to satisfy its humiliated ego is blurring its vision and it is messing up its foreign policy.

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