Iranian Role in the Middle East
Wednesday، June 25، 2014
On June 25, 2014, Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS) hosted Mr. Mohammad Abbas Nagi, Editor-in-Chief of Iranian Selections magazine, issued by Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS). Mr. Nagi was invited to offer a general lecture about possible implications of the nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany), as for the Iranian regional role in the Middle East.
Such issue gains added significance in the light of current changes in the Middle East, especially the sudden and rapid changes within Iraq. In turn, these changes can affect the final settlement of Iran nuclear program issue, and may alter power balances and threat cards on the Iranian side. Due to the high influence Iran enjoys in the region, the final settlement carries high significance not only for Iran and the West, but also for the whole Middle East, especially the GCC.
Obviously, the adoption of a comprehensive and final settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue will have significant implications as for the balance of regional powers and transform the nature of interactions among the major regional powers. In fact, reaching a comprehensive settlement represents the most optimistic path at the moment, although some obstacles remain. According to this scenario, Iran and P5+1 will be able to reach compromises that pave the way for the adoption of a final agreement.
Rouhani: Support or Restraint
Mr. Nagi displayed the potential implications of a comprehensive settlement on Iran, among them the possible strengthening of Hasan Rouhani’s position in the short run. The resolution of the nuclear issue will offer the Iranian president a valuable opportunity to boost his position domestically, especially in view of the fact that Iran seeks to try a new path after the failures made by the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in dealing with the Iranian issue, and the economic deterioration. These conditions created a public attitude that opts for cooperation with the West concerning the nuclear program, and maybe this is the decisive factor behind the electoral victory of Rouhani in 2013, and his winning the support of the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei.
Yet it remains possible that Rouhani’s position will be restrained, while Khamenei gains more power in the long term. Ironically, the boost in Rouhani’s domestic position will probably be limited to the foreseeable future, as it is inconceivable that the Supreme Guide will allow Rouhani an equal standing, under any circumstances. Thus, the potential scenario is that Khamenei will seek to diminish Rouhani’s popularity and unleash the Conservatives’ criticisms against him. It is well-known that the president position is restricted within the Iranian regime, beside it is not in the best interest of the Supreme Guide that Rouhani gains much power.
A successful settlement between the West and Iran may carry the following regional implications for the Iranian-GCC relations:
1- Upsetting the Balance of Power: Keeping the Iranian nuclear program, while downgrading enrichment processes and maybe fewer centrifuges, beside regular inspection from IAEA, may disturb the regional balance of power in favour of Iran, as it allows it to continue developing nuclear abilities in future.
2- Escalating Threats: that can be posed by the Iranian nuclear program towards the environment, as nuclear installations are located near to some GCC capitals, particularly the Bushehr plant.
3- Rising Iranian Regional Role: Such deal offers an opportunity for Iran and the West to coordinate their policies towards important regional issues, such as developments in Iraq and Syria, in a way that strengthens Iranian regional presence, especially at a time when both Iran and US need rapprochement.
4- Partial Solution for the Economic Problem: Iran considers its rapprochement with the West as an admission that it constitutes a significant regional power in the Middle East. In turn, this, Iran hopes, may help in dealing with its economic crisis, as the nuclear deal may give a push to foreign investments in Iran and Iranian oil exports. On the other hand, Washington sees the possible final deal as a way out of regional crisis points, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. This carries special importance for Washington in a time when Asia, particularly China, gains more and more world clout.
In any way, these potential implications are related to the optimistic scenario that Iran will be able to reach a comprehensive settlement that enables it to sign “the Deal” with Washington. Yet, there are other scenarios concerning the failure of settlement, especially as there still remain obstacles on the way of the deal and the comprehensive settlement. Among the principal outstanding differences between the two parties:
1- Timing of lifting Sanctions: The Iranian side is trying to press for a deal to lift sanctions on Iran once the nuclear deal is signed. On the other side, Western powers prefer to lift sanctions within a year from the moment of signing the nuclear agreement, to guarantee Iranian commitment to the agreement.
2- Sanctions Implied in the Deal: The Iranian side is trying to imply all international sanctions within the agreement, including those unrelated to the nuclear issue, like those caused by human rights violations.
3- Uranium Enrichment Level: there are still unresolved differences about the acceptable enrichment level. The West prefers 3.5%, while Iran insists on 20% at least.
4- Number of centrifuges: the West seeks to minimize centrifuges to guarantee that Iran will not acquire significant nuclear abilities when it builds new civil plants. On the other hand, Iran seeks to operate as many centrifuges as possible.
5- Arak Plant: Western powers want this plant to be closed or to turn its production from heavy to light water, whereas Iran desires to keep the plant working, with less production of heavy water.
6- Iranian Missile System: The West is trying to include the Iranian missile system within the comprehensive settlement, but Iran refuses.
Thus, Mr. Nagi displayed that a number of obstacles still stand on the way of a comprehensive agreement between the West and Iran, with some of them related to the nuclear program, while others are far from it, such as the issue of human rights in Iran. Moreover, both US and Iran still lack reliable measures to build mutual trust.
** This Article is translated and edited from Arabic to English by: Marwa Sabri
Keywords: Iranmiddle eastFARASWorkshop