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Debate: The Gulf states will find it hard to join the Iranian nuclear talks - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) have been marked by years of wrangling, give-and-take, and mutual accusations of indirect subterfuge. Iran’s nuclear program will likely remain a point of contention for the international community, the system of international law, and the governments that tirelessly demand that this program be curtailed or even wholly dismantled. The continuation of Iran’s nuclear program could raise estimations of the country’s military power, placing it among the region’s most influential powers. Moreover, the talks with the US government will allow Iran to become a part of whatever the US has planned for the region, and its unilateral approach to maintaining Israel’s security.

The agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 countries—the details of which have not been fully disclosed—in turn led to a “partnership, of sorts,” albeit limited, between Iran and the United States. However, the agreement’s nuances will require more research and study to uncover the boundaries drawn in this geopolitical and military game. What is striking is that the agreement was not a necessary step in resolving the indirect conflict, but rather a recognition of Iran’s right to continue enriching uranium and to operate reactors in Arak and Natanz in accordance with the Geneva Accord. The six-month period was not so much a testing phase, but rather served as additional time to formulate new agreements—or perhaps this extra time served to provide the US with enough time to promote the agreement among its close Arab and European allies.

Recently, news agencies reported that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to assess the course of events. The manner in which this was done implied that Europe—excepting Germany, which cannot be party to the negotiations in accordance with prior agreements—was not a true actor in the negotiations as much as it was a listener and observer. Perhaps the decisions made by Washington and Tehran, after they are disclosed, will have a significant impact on the Middle East. This, without a doubt, will have direct implications for the worsening situation in Iraq, the crisis in Syria, the Palestinian issue, and Lebanon, which is languishing in a constitutional crisis that has resulted in delayed presidential elections and has hindered the work of state institutions.

However, even if Iran manages to allay the concerns that Western countries have been expressing for many years, Arab anxieties and uncertainties will remain, especially those of the Gulf countries. This makes the anticipated agreement a useful tool for limiting the risks of various conflicts, especially as hostilities have increased between Sunnis and Shi’ites in more than one country, and have even escalated to an open conflict. This type of conflict does not help anyone, because points of strength today can transform into vulnerabilities tomorrow. This phenomenon has been witnessed in Iraq. The conflict there transformed from a feud with hints of sectarianism between the government and its opponents into a wider, decentralized conflict with various actors and agendas, one that has caused concern among the international community, which fears the conflict may escalate to an open-ended war.

Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 take on a technical character at times, but they will not result in a final, comprehensive settlement unless they include all the other aspects of the issue, which will not be easy to achieve. The mixed feelings felt towards the different dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program are still visible in the talks at the technical and diplomatic level. This movement towards legalism follows decisions made by the Security Council and various other bodies of the United Nations that implemented the agreement and developed a legal framework for its conditions and provisions. The agreement as a whole is still a purely political document; to this day it has not been codified into enforceable international law. The agreement reached on November 23, 2013 was described as “historic” merely because consensus was reached on its general articles, which in effect shifted the dispute to the stage of negotiations, and only after threats of force.

Those with knowledge of international politics realize this is merely US grandstanding, which it hopes will distract from its two failed wars in the region. These wars have not had a positive result for the American people in general, who have witnessed a sharp decline in their country’s economic growth, increased unemployment, and rising debt levels.

The Iran–P5+1 negotiations are in essence a dialogue between Iran and the United States regarding the nuances of the nuclear standoff and the other impasses that have resulted from it. It is also, however, an opportunity for the two countries to navigate the political landscape of a tumultuous region with shifting borders. From the United States’ perspective, the continuing deterioration of the various regional crises it is involved in has necessitated that it turn to Iran as a strategic partner.

This does not mean that the agreement will form a comprehensive road map that will push Iran into becoming a reliable partner, but instead it will usher in a new phase in which Iran becomes one pillar of American strategy among others. Thus the US will have room to lay out a strategy and influence events in pursuit of its interests and goals.

Another issue is that the negotiations will not be sufficient to calm widespread fears unless Arab nations—especially Egypt and the Gulf states (with Saudi Arabia at the forefront)—are included. This will prevent the agreement being confined solely to Iranian issues during the implementation phase. This is because excluding these nations—or merely informing them of a comprehensive agreement without involving them—will not create support for the agreement nor allay Arab fears regarding it—if it is ever agreed to in the first place. Many will refuse to accept it if it marginalizes them.

The ongoing Iranian–US nuclear agreement will remain incomplete unless other relevant countries are included, to varying degrees. If they are, this would allow the implementation phase to proceed as planned, raise the chances that it will be a success, and contribute to regional stability.

The counterpoint to this article can be found here.

Dr. Antoine Safer

Dr. Antoine Safer

Dr. Antoine Safer is a Lebanese lawyer and academic specializing in international law.

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