Leadership Conference 2015 Review: U.S., Iran, and the Middle East A Decade after the Deal

12184203_10153804880198938_5071105066650334995_oWashington D.C. –  “If you think about what a world would have look like without the Iran deal, it would have been a far more dark and bleak world,” remarked Atlantic editor at large Steve Clemons, speaking on a NIAC Leadership Conference panel moderated by Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan,

Clemons discussed the increased opportunities for a different Middle East created by the Iran deal. Moving forward, he sees the deal shaping the nature of the Middle East through the way in which it creates new winners and losers both inside Iran and regionally.  

Brookings Senior Fellow Shadi Hamid indicated that he supported the deal, but he expressed a deep skepticism with the long-term implications. He argued that until we see a sign of Iran actually changing its foreign policy in a real way there will be no significant benefit, and that President Obama made harmful concessions to U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel in order to gain their acquiesce to the deal.

Dr. Farideh Farhi expressed the most optimism over the Iran deal and future of the Middle East. “Unlike its neighbors [Iran] chose to resolve their problems politically and institutionally,” she exclaimed. Farhi added that there are firm expectations that the upcoming Iranian elections in early 2016 will confirm the trend towards reformist candidates and that Khomeini’s prohibition on negotiation with the US will not stand. While Farhi foresaw improving relations between the US and Iran in the long term, she acknowledged the challenges of suspicion and contrasting interests. 

Over the long term, Clemons likened the relationship between the US and Iran to the slow thawing of relations that occurred between China and the US in the 1970s. In turn, “The kind of regime that the Saudis have can be difficult to maintain if Iran becomes a more moderate regime.” Furthermore, Clemons argued that a reforming Iran might translate to a change in behavior of Iran’s proxy organizations in the region. Moreover, Clemons noted that the deal holds potential to generate momentum towards solving other common concerns between the US and Iran, like the Syrian Civil War. 

As a whole, the panelist represented a divergent spectrum of thought on the future of the Middle East. Subsequently, the panelist reached consensus on very few issues: the Iran deal is preferable to the alternative and the US-Iran relationship will take time to thaw. Beyond the myriad of views on the panel, however, the predictions and prescriptions mitigated uncertainty on the future of the region.

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Alexander Kneib
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