June 10, 2015

Iran Deal Can Help Disentangle Regional Conflicts

Washington, D.C.— A successful nuclear deal with Iran would enable the US to begin to adopt a more balanced foreign policy approach in the Middle East, helping it to finally disentangle itself from the ever-widening conflicts of the region. That was according to Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), and Dr. Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, in discussion at the IISS last week.

The two discussants focused on how an Iran nuclear deal could have positive, far-reaching geopolitical implications beyond the current nuclear-proliferation concerns.  If agreed to, a nuclear deal could open a new dialogue between the US and Iran to help to stabilize the war-torn Middle East, Fitzpatrick said. The countries could potentially cooperate on issues such as anti-narcotics trafficking, poverty alleviation, female empowerment and halting the spread of the Islamic State.  

The US military and Iran have both been working to impede the progress of ISIS.  The two countries have been collaborating indirectly on the fight against ISIS through Iraq’s government, according to Dr. Parsi, who went on to say that this type of communication has been “very, very limited compared with what it could be.”  Thus, he noted, it has been inefficient and ineffective in impeding the spread of IS.  Nonetheless, there has been successful cooperation between the US and Iran in combatting Sunni extremism, such as after 9/11, when they worked together to dispose the Taliban government in Afghanistan.  This type of coordination, which is necessary to fight successfully against the Islamic State, could be facilitated if an Iran nuclear deal takes effect and will almost certainly be hindered if the nuclear negotiations fail.

The US would also be able to work with Iran on combatting the opium trade, which is a huge source of income for the Taliban.  Iran has the highest number of per capita opiate abusers in the world, partially because of the country’s proximity to Afghanistan.  Millions of pounds of opium are produced in Afghanistan every year, and a large percentage of that is exported through Iran to European countries and the US.  

One of the biggest concerns from the West is that a nuclear deal with Iran could “spark a proliferation cascade in the region,” Fitzpatrick noted, starting with Saudi Arabia.  However, if Saudi Arabia does choose to seek nuclear weapons, he said, it will find it very difficult to procure the technology.  Pakistan, the most likely supplier, “has no strategic interest in sharing weapons technology with the Saudis” as they would not want to be sanctioned for transferring nuclear technology. In fact, Fitzpatrick noted, a nuclear deal may convince the Saudi king of the need for rapprochement with Iran, as proxy conflicts become more costly and oil prices drop.  King Salman told Obama that he was optimistic that the Iran deal would “reinforce the stability and security of the region and the world.”  Fitzpatrick insisted that, contrary to popular assumptions, without restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia would feel compelled to attain nuclear capabilities to counter Iran’s own.

“For the last 20 years, the United States and Iran have done everything they could to either contain Iran or, in the case of the Iranians, undermine the United States in the region, and they have spent a tremendous amount of resources and political capital to do so,” according to Parsi.  Easing the tensions between the US and Iran, will allow the US to invest more resources elsewhere. Additionally, the US will be able to have a more honest discussion with the Saudis if it has a counterbalance in Iran.  These steps will facilitate the US’s plan to reorient itself towards East Asia, Fitzpatrick concluded.

Watch the discussion in full below:

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