The world rejoiced over the “historical understanding” between the P5+1 and Iran. Within minutes of the framework’s announcement in Switzerland, reactions started pouring in. Most countries declared it a good deal, yet there were two nations, both of them America’s allies — Saudi Arabia and Israel — that voiced strong objections.
“The dangerous accord which is being negotiated in Lausanne confirms our concerns and even worse,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks at a meeting of his cabinet broadcast on public radio, after the framework compromise was made public.
Netanyahu denounced the “Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis,” saying that the deal leaves Iran with the capacity to produce the material for numerous nuclear bombs. “It does so by lifting the sanctions pretty much up front. So, Iran will have billions of dollars flowing into its coffers not for schools, or hospitals, or roads, but to pump up its worldwide terror machine and its military machine, which is busy conquering the Middle East, as we speak,” Netanyahu said in an interview with a US media outlet.
The sensitivity and the grandeur of the issue compelled President Obama to mention both countries in his speech after the negotiations were over. He said that he had called the Saudi King and would talk to Netanyahu to discuss their misgivings.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have already joined hands to fight the Houthi rebels, allegedly supported by Iran, in Yemen. Obama remained focused on the message that the upcoming deal would bring not only a safer world but reduce any chances of another war in the Middle East. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel fear Iran and its possible role in the region.
This desire to avert a potential conflict is not confined to Middle Eastern countries but the President has to sell the deal at home as well where a majority of Republicans and a few Democrats are skeptical and proving tough to sway.
Even before negotiations were anywhere near conclusion, 47 Senators from the Republicans party undermined the White House’s authority and wrote a letter to Iranian high ups warning them that any finalised deal can be undone.
Traditionally, the White House has a final say on matters of foreign policy. The reaction to the open letter to Iran was spectacular. The media, the American people, the Democratic party and the administration went berserk, even suggesting that the move was illegal. The Iranians reacted to the letter with open scorn.
The initial confrontation is about to become a long hard fight. Both sides are flexing their muscles to prove each other wrong. The Saudi-Iranian concern and the Yemen war have become an excuse of sorts to further GOP congressional members’ objection to the deal.
American analyst, Martin J., who knows the region and the Saudi-related conflicts thoroughly, commented that “Houthis were not tools of the Iranian government but “the ‘one man one vote’ crowd in Washington insists that the Zeidi Houthis are illegitimately seeking on behalf of Iran to overthrow a government that corresponds to the ‘narrative’ favoured by the Children’s Crusade in Washington.”
He goes on to say that Houthis were the natural allies of the United States in the world wide war against Sunni jihadism. “The US seems blind to that, blinded by its own delusions concerning the ‘evolution’ of history and the dust thrown in US eyes by the Saudis who fear all things Yemeni.”
Martin’s point is gaining legitimacy as the US and Iran are virtual partners in many other areas. Both countries oppose the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS in Syria, and al Qaeda in Iraq. Although both countries don’t officially acknowledge it, the media has reported that American air forces coordinate closely with Iranian Revolutionary forces in Tikrit against jihadists.
US General, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Congress last month saying, “I think there is a general consensus, both inside of our own forces and also with the coalition partners with whom I engage, that anything anyone does to counter ISIS is in the main a good outcome. In other words, the activities of the Iranians — the support for the Iraqi security forces — is a positive thing in military terms.”
The administration understands the bright thin line that defines close strategic coordination with Iran, which could help the US reduce its footprints in the Middle East, and keep a check on Iran in exerting its power in full force.
Robert Kaplan, a global affairs analyst, supports this argument in his article for The Atlantic, “The more the United States and Iran coordinate with each other, the less chance there is that America will have to put additional boots on the ground in the Middle East.”
The Iran issue has been so important to President Obama that he has had more Situation Room meetings on Iran than on any another topic during his first year at office. He has been in constant communication with Iranian officials through diplomatic means as well as official letters. The framework marks the culmination of that hard work.
While the accord mandates sanctions relief in return for restrictions on Iran’s atomic capabilities, it doesn’t mean a surrender of US and international leverage over Iran. In his speech, the President was keen to point this out. “If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back in place. Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile programme, all will continue to be enforced.”
This notion of shared US and Iranian interests has deeply alarmed Sunni Arab governments and Israel. To highlight this separation of sanctions on Iran, Obama announced that he’s inviting leaders of the six countries who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain — to meet with him at Camp David in the coming weeks and “discuss how all can strengthen security cooperation, while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East.”
Hillary Mann Leverett, scholar and author of Going to Tehran said in an interview that “the strategic opportunity this deal could give to the United States to get off of incredibly self-damaging pursuit of war after war, failed military interventions after failed interventions in the Middle East. This would give us the opportunity not to do that, develop much more constructive relationships with all of the region’s principle countries and to lessen our dependency, even on some of our allies, who take policies that are often reckless for US interest, whether its the Israelis or the Saudis or others.”
She cited that the Saudis were fighting in Yemen on the pretext that Youthis were backed by Iran but actually it is Saudis who are strengthening al Qaeda, with which the US and Iran are at war.
The US now is treading cautiously, or at least the administration is, and bringing all friends and foes together to back the deal. The deal, once finalised, doesn’t necessarily need congressional ratification but republicans have asked for a vote. It’s more of an executive agreement, hence, the President has hinted of using his veto power as well if the deal’s critics don’t budge.
“These are matters of war and peace, and they should be evaluated based on the facts and what is ultimately best for the American people and for our national security. For this is not simply a deal between my administration and Iran. This is a deal between Iran, the United States of America, and the major powers in the world, including some of our closest allies. If Congress kills this deal — not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative — then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy,” Obama warned, adding that international unity will collapse and the path to conflict will widen.
Up till now, the President has named a special team to talk to lawmakers and gain more votes in favour of the deal. This multi-faceted challenge also includes convincing its Middle East allies. In the next three months, the administration will try to keep the agenda on track, ultimately forcing Iran to keep its side of the commitment. Much of the criticism focuses not on the nuclear issue itself but Iran’s role in the Middle East after the deal is signed. Obama has one question for the fierce critics of the deal: Is it really “a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?”