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Regional threats could boost chance of US-Iran nuclear agreement

Threat from Sunni militant groups in Syria and Iraq could boost chance of US-Iran nuclear agreement

Mariam Mecky , Wednesday 5 Nov 2014
Zarif, Kerry
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) at talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program in Vienna, July 13, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Views: 1733
Views: 1733

Ongoing high-level talks between Iran and the United States aim to reach a deal on the Islamic republic's nuclear programme before 24 November.

The threat posed by militant groups might push the parties to achieve a final agreement.

Last November, Iran and the so-called P5 +1 (United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany) agreed on an interim deal that freezes key parts of Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions.

It was supposed to pave the way to a comprehensive agreement this June, but the deadline was extended.

On 9-10 November, the US Secretary of State and EU foreign policy chief will meet with Iran's foreign minister in Oman to continue negotiations ahead of the deadline.

Could the regional and political context urge the parties to end the decade long dispute?

Is the regional context a game changer?

Militant groups such as Islamic State (IS), Nusra Front in Lebanon, and other Sunni extremist groups, which once appeared as one bloc, have in recent months emerged fragmented and beleaguered by infighting, making them much harder to combat.

Such ultraconservative militant groups thwart the prospect of a stable Middle East.

The US has led a coalition against IS, launching airstrikes on targets in Syria and Iraq since late September.

"At the moment the US has no appetite to gain more enemies in the Middle East," said Nervana Mahmoud, a Middle East writer and blogger.

She argues that even though there are calls for Obama not to compromise, many perceive Iran as crucial in fighting IS.

"I think at the end Obama prefers not to close the door completely," she tells Ahram Online.

Over the past decade, the US and Iran have engaged in proxy wars for power and influence in several Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Currently, with the emergence of IS as a common threat, the United States and Iran might have an incentive to push the deal through.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in his speech at the UN General Assembly on 25 September that in the event of western concessions in the nuclear talks "an entirely different environment will emerge for cooperation at regional and international levels," allowing "greater focus on very important regional issues such as combating violence and extremism."

Nevertheless, Geneive Abdo, nonresident fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, asserts that "Iran has given no guarantees that if there is a deal Tehran will begin to make concessions on issues such as Iran's intervention in Syria and Iraq and its support for Hezbollah."

The negotiations so far revolve around centrifuges, as the great powers aim to limit the number Iran has to the low thousands and Tehran wants to keep tens of thousands in operation, Reuters reported.

As the United States and Iran are converging, key US allies in the region are observing warily.

According to Abdo, Arab states, some of which are US allies, are not in favour of a deal and if a deal is in place, Arab public opinion will be even more anti-American.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Obama not to accept any deal that would allow Tehran to become a "nuclear power," AFP reported.

Addressing the United Nations, Netanyahu also said that Iran was attempting to "trick" the world into sealing a nuclear deal that would allow it to enrich uranium.

Iran affirmed earlier that it does not intend to develop any nuclear weapons, yet many, among them the UN, assert that it is not guaranteed whether all Iranian nuclear activities are peaceful.

Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report stated that Iran is meeting its commitments under the interim deal.

The role of internal affairs

While the regional context plays a huge role, domestic politics act as an instigator as well.

Holly Dagres, a Middle East analyst and commentator, told Ahram Online that neoconservatives in Congress have been hinting at military escalation.

“An example is Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who has repeatedly mentioned presenting a resolution that will authorise the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb," Dagres explains.

Since the Iranian nuclear programme was revealed in 2002 there have been multiple rounds of failed negotiations between Iran and the United States.

After the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president in June 2013, bilateral talks between the US and Iran resulted in an interim deal by November.

Abdo argues that the consequences of failed talks are worse for Rouhani than Obama.

She further explains that if there is no nuclear deal, Rouhani will be overcome by the hard-line establishment, who will completely exert their power over his administration. The hope for a nuclear deal gives him some political leverage inside the regime because he has public support for a deal. If he loses the deal, he loses his public support among those who got him elected.

"If this happens, we will see a similar scenario to president Khatami, when he became relatively powerless and hardliners ran every part of the regime," she remarks.

With oil losing a quarter of its value since June, Rouhani has more to gain from this deal than mere political domination.

In a statement to Reuters, a senior US official affirms that a deal in place would provide more economic opportunities for Iran. In the event of a nuclear deal, foreign investment is projected to pour billions of dollars into Iran's economy.

Iran has been suffering from a severe financial crunch mainly as a result of the US and EU imposed sanctions on its nuclear programme. The impact on the economy has been severe since 2010. Its oil exports and revenues dropped, inflation spiraled, its currency lost more than two thirds of its value, and trade fell.

Vali Nasr, a former Obama administration official and dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said in the Wall Street Journal that US engagement with Iran in the nuclear talks indicates that currently US interests and policies are converging with Iran’s.

“This is a geostrategic reality at the moment,” Vali emphasised.

Arash Karami, a writer on Iranian affairs and editor of Al-Monitor's Iran Pulse, concludes that “the possibility of the talks collapsing is very small. It would take a real unexpected event for anyone to walk away at this point.”

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06-11-2014 08:25am
Nuclear program
It is showing the high chance to boost this nuclear program between US and Iran.
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