Historic agreement comes with problems
The agreement reached by major world powers with Iran in Vienna is historic in the sense that it will end three decades of Western sanctions on Iran and usher in a different relationship between Washington and Tehran. The deal could also change the balance of power in the Middle East.
There are, however, many problems in the agreement, some of them quite worrisome.
It remains to be seen whether the verification protocol will work. One can hope that Iran will keep its commitment not to pursue nuclear programmes or ballistic arms. But that commitment is limited in time and Iran’s nuclear infrastructure has not been dismantled.
Western powers are betting that within ten years, regime change will take place in Tehran and usher in a new democratic Iran – or at least a less radical Iran. That remains to be seen.
The deal with Iran could, ironically, encourage nuclear proliferation in the region where countries have no long-term guarantee against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. All nations can see the benefits of being perceived as a “threshold” nuclear power.
Another problem with the agreement is that it considers Iran’s pursuit of aggressive and sectarian policies in the Middle East as a secondary concern. “[Critics say,] ‘Well, even if the nuclear issue is dealt with, they’re still going to be sponsoring terrorism and they’re going to get this sanctions relief. And so they’re going to have more money to engage in these bad activities.’ That is a possibility,” US President Barack Obama told the New York Times.
That possibility is a vital concern to other countries in the region that fear what Iran may do with the billions of dollars in new revenue it will enjoy from sanctions relief.
Will Iran disengage from its proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere? Not likely. Nothing in Iran’s recent behaviour or the West’s negotiating posture would lead to that conclusion. Tehran’s revolutionary ideology, strategic objectives and regional designs point to its likely pursuit of expansionist policies at the expense of the interests of other countries in the region. This may have been outside the scope of the Vienna agreement, but it is not outside the legitimate concerns of countries in the region.
In expressing such concerns, Arab nations are not necessarily pinning the blame for the region’s woes solely on Tehran. The Arab world still has a long way to go before taking ownership of all its problems and the collapse of states such as Syria, Yemen and Libya has provided Tehran with convenient opportunities for meddling. But Iran has yet to show a willingness to stop meddling and to reassure its neighbours by pursuing less sectarian or aggressive policies. Until it does, the other states in the region must assume the worst and remain wary and vigilant.