TSG IntelBrief: A Deal with Iran and a New Direction
July 14, 2015

A Deal with Iran and a New Direction

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Bottom Line Up Front: 

• After a decade of talks and extended deadlines, the P5+1 and Iran have finally signed an agreement meant to limit the country’s nuclear weapons program

• The issue of implementation and verification now assumes priority, as does selling the deal to skeptical audiences both in the U.S. and elsewhere

• Putting aside the technical details, the deal is a move away from four decades of diplomatic and economic stasis in the Middle East, as Iran hopes to reverse years of tension and relative isolation.

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The Iran nuclear deal is about much more than the country’s nuclear ambitions. This morning’s announcement of a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany) will bring the focus back to the role that Iran is likely to play in regional politics once freed from its restrictions. Gulf Arab countries, as well as Israel and other nations, have consistently expressed their concern that once sanctions are lifted, especially the arms embargo, Iran will redouble its efforts to expand its influence in the area. It is not just in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen that countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archrival, fear they will see Tehran being still more assertive in support of its proxies, but also in other places where there are sectarian tensions, including much nearer to home. Promises by the United States that the architects of the deal will keep a close eye on Iran will not satisfy allies who believe that the attention span of the U.S. is short and that, in the run-up to a Presidential election, other concerns are even more likely to distract the Administration.

As with any controversial issue, the rhetoric on both sides is unduly dramatic; while the deal’s champions claim it will usher in regional peace, its opponents foretell global annihilation. The reality is that no one knows the long-term non-nuclear consequences of this deal. Iran has a chance to play one of two possible roles in the region: constructive or destructive. Likewise, Iran’s many regional adversaries, such as Saudi Arabia, can work to either bridge the divide between them, or widen it even further. There is serious concern among Gulf countries that an economically reenergized Iran could redouble its meddling in places such as Yemen, Lebanon, and most troubling, in Syria. The merits of such concerns matter less in the near-term than that these concerns are deeply held by countries unlikely to change their policies regardless of a signed deal.

In his remarks this morning, President Obama said the deal “offers an opportunity to move in a new direction” and urged all parties to seize this chance. Whether others do so or not will determine not just the success of any deal, but regional and global stability.

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