The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 has ushered in a new series of questions concerning Iran’s relationship to its Arab neighbors across the Gulf, as well as with the United States. How has this new deal affected the balance of power in the region? Will Iran act as a responsible regional player? Will this new deal foster cooperation or fuel hostility between Iran and other regional powers?
Moderator: Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington
Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow and Director of the Iran Initiative, New America
Jamal Khashoggi, General Manager, Al Arab News Channel
Nadim Shehadi, Director, Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, Tufts University
Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, Fellow, Rice University; Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University
Ibish framed the discussion by stating that the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 has arrived in the context of two key factors: the growing concern for the United States’ commitment to the stability of the Gulf region, specifically its traditional Gulf allies, and that the Gulf is at a particularly high point in regional confrontation.
DiMaggio remarked that from the U.S. perspective, the nuclear accord should be viewed as a success because it prevents Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for another 10 to 15 years. Indeed, the goal of the Iran-P5+1 agreement is not to transform Iran, but to restrict lran’s nuclear program, and that looking at the implications of the Iran deal from a black or white perspective, whether the agreement suppresses or unleashes Iran, is unproductive. DiMaggio emphasized that the best course of action for the United States is to focus on bringing balance to the region so that key powers can “agree to disagree,” by providing reassurance of its support to its traditional Gulf allies, as well as to encourage Saudi Arabia to respond to Iranian overtures. DiMaggio also mentioned that if Iran wants to be a responsible regional player, it must take measures to withdraw its support from destabilizing forces in the region.
Tabaar warned that it is dangerous to assume that Iranians feel that they are winners in this deal and noted the vulnerability of the agreement within Iran. Although many cite the nuclear deal as evidence for the death of anti-Americanism in Iran, conservatives in Tehran are trying to portray the deal and the United States as unreliable and tyrannical, thus creating a resurgence of anti-American sentiment. Tabaar advised that promoting moderate Iranian politicians and strengthening responsible wings in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) rests on increased engagement between Saudis and Iranians.
Khashoggi responded that if Iran wants peace with other regional powers, it first must undergo a regime change itself, and extract its support from tyrannical regimes and insurrections throughout the Middle East. Khashoggi assured that Saudi Arabia accepts Iran as a regional power, but does not accept Iranian interventionism in the region. While it may be beneficial for the region in the long run to cooperate with Iran, more immediate issues press regional Arab powers; issues which Khashoggi suggested are being prolonged by Iran.
Shehadi spoke to big-picture prospects for the region, suggesting that if we want a future without the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) then we also need a future without the IRGC. Shehadi highlighted the deep lack of confidence between the Obama administration and Gulf allies and suggested that the United States is widely seen as the enemy because U.S. aid only goes toward countering ISIL and not to battling despotic governments in the region.
Through its careful examination of the forces shaping the evolution of Gulf societies and the new generation of emerging leaders, AGSIW facilitates a richer understanding of the role the countries in this key geostrategic region can be expected to play in the 21st century.