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Implications of the preliminary Iranian nuclear deal

Recognition has dawned that the potential pre-eminent state in the region, Iran, and the globally pre-eminent state, the United States, need each other.

Mohammed Ayoob
4 April 2015
 Iran nuclear talks.

Iran nuclear talks. Demotix/Live News. All rights reserved.The implications of the successful preliminary nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 go far beyond the narrow issue of curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and making certain that Tehran will not weaponize for at least a decade. They also go beyond the even more important issue that in this case peace has won and war has lost out despite the drumbeats emanating both from Tel Aviv and the Republicans in the United States.

This preliminary deal signals above all that a sea change in the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East is around the corner. This is the first time since the Iranian revolution of 1979 that Washington and Tehran have entered into an overt deal on an issue vital to the national interests of both countries. It is true that there had been a covert agreement between the US and Iran on Afghanistan in 2001-2002 that led to Hamid Karzai’s accession to the presidency of that state. There have also been unwritten understandings between the two on issues related to Iraq, especially after the rise of the ISIS and the threat this posed to American and Iranian interests in that country. But this is the first time in 36 years that the two sides have openly recognized that both have legitimate interests in a major strategic issue and are willing to enter into a deal that protects the core interests of both.

Although both sides continue to deny at least in public that the nuclear deal will affect the entire gamut of their relationship, it is clear that it is tied to the emerging perception in Washington and Tehran that they have common political and economic interests in the Middle East relating to the creation of a stable structure of peace and security in the region. It is the beginning of recognition by both sides that both are indispensable for the construction of such a stable order and that their adversarial relationship has hurt the interests of both during the past three decades and more. Both Tehran and Washington are increasingly aware of the fact that none of the so-called intractable conflicts in the Middle East – Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon – can be solved or even mitigated without a degree of cooperation between the two.

The chaos that followed the so-called Arab Spring has made Washington realize that Iran is a true island of stability in a very volatile region, above all because it has a centuries old state tradition that prevents it from sliding into anarchy even when faced with the harshest economic sanctions and grave political turmoil. The gradual dissipation of revolutionary fervor and the ascent of the moderate neo-reformers plus the impact of economic sanctions has led to widespread recognition in Iran that the country’s prosperity as well as regional political clout rests a great deal on improving relations with the United States. In other words, the recognition has dawned that the potential pre-eminent state in the region, Iran, and the globally pre-eminent state, the United States, need each other to protect their economic and strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond.

The preliminary nuclear deal also gives a lie to the Israeli contention that Iran is the perpetual destabilizer in the region. In fact, Israel’s opposition to the nuclear deal shows up the fact that Israel far from being a strategic asset has clearly become a strategic liability for the United States and that the sooner Washington disentangles its relationship with states in the Middle East from its obsession with protecting Israel’s security (read domination) the better its interests would be served in the region. The preliminary deal with Iran has the potential to demonstrate that this may be the beginning of wisdom as far as America’s perception of Israel is concerned. If this happens, it would be a major achievement in itself.

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