Commentary negotiations with iran: beyond the nuclear question

Iran and the West are cautiously moving closer in the nuclear dispute. But much more is at stake: Will Iran end up becoming an ally?

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry (left) and his Iranian counterpart Sarif in talks in Vienna on June 30. Photo: reuters

The EU wants to suspend parts of the sanctions imposed on Iran in the nuclear conflict for another week. This indicates that hopes for an agreement in the coming days have risen sharply.

The U.S. seems to share the Europeans’ optimism. Apparently, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Sarif brought new compromise proposals to Vienna after his consultation with Iranian leaders in Tehran. "We are all here to reach an agreement, and I believe we will," he said after talks with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry.

For the Iranian economy, which has been in deep crisis for three years, an agreement would be of great significance.

Several hundred billion dollars of Iranian assets sitting on ice in foreign banks would be freed up, giving the economy a noticeable boost. Lifting crippling restrictions on bank transactions, foreign trade, especially oil exports and shipping, will also bring the country out of isolation.

Defeat for Islamists

The only question is whether sanctions will be lifted completely immediately after the agreement (as Iran demands) or gradually suspended, not lifted (as the West wants).

Success in the negotiations would also bring politically weighty changes for Iran. This would probably secure an absolute majority for Hassan Rohani’s government and the reformers in next year’s parliamentary elections, as well as the re-election of the incumbent president the following year.

For the extreme Islamists, on the other hand, an agreement would be a bitter defeat. Not unreasonably, they fear that an agreement on the nuclear conflict would open the country’s doors not only to foreign companies but also to spurned Western culture, thus undermining the legitimacy of the Islamic State.

Strategic Architecture of the Middle East.

Indeed, beyond the economic benefits it would gain in the Iranian market, the West may intend to integrate Iran into a new strategic architecture for the Middle East in the medium term. Iran has now significantly increased its influence in the Middle East. Without the Islamic Republic, the problems in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and even Palestine can hardly be solved.

Unlike Saudi Arabia and other states in the Persian Gulf, whose regimes will not be sustainable in the long term, Iran would probably be a more reliable partner, provided it moves closer to the West and changes its ideology. The United States and also the Europeans make no secret of this intention. U.S. President Obama has not infrequently emphasized that the negotiations are about more than just resolving the nuclear conflict.

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