America's Arab allies are naturally uneasy about the sudden prospect of a US deal with Iran. But there are great potential benefits.
A deal with Iran must consider the Gulf states
The speedy flowering of high-level direct diplomacy about Iran’s nuclear programme has startled almost everyone. Indeed, the talks last weekend, resuming on November 20, held out the prospect of a much broader deal, not about merely centrifuges and inspections but about Iran’s place in the world.
But in diplomacy, as in financial markets, surprises are alarming. US allies in the Arabian Gulf have good reason to be wary of Iran, and the sudden blossoming of “smile diplomacy” between the US and Iran has naturally created much concern.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia, in particular, have been staunch US allies through hard times for American foreign policy, supporting the US in ever-tighter sanctions on Iran. In return, they have had only disappointment from the US on Syria. Early on in the fighting there, surgical intervention by the US might well have avoided the agony of prolonged civil war. Instead, America dithered and wriggled while Iran and its proxies assumed a critical role in sustaining the oppressive regime.
So it is disconcerting that America appears ready to move so eagerly in talks with Iran. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, who was in Abu Dhabi yesterday to discuss issues with the UAE’s leaders, has had to defend his country’s position in the Iran talks: “We are not blind, and I don’t think we’re stupid,” he told a US television interviewer.
The devil is in the details, and for now, at least, an actual agreement and its implementation are still purely theoretical. Still, the game is well worth the candle. An Iran certifiably devoid of nuclear weapons and reintegrated into the world economy is a goal worth pursuing.
Mr Kerry mentioned yesterday that trade between the UAE and Iran has fallen by 83 per cent because of sanctions. Dubai-based Gulf traders, ordinary Iranians and indeed the whole global economy would gain if Iran could shed its status as a rogue state. Lowered tensions about its nuclear programme and some resumption of trade could ease Iran’s isolation, opening the door to the reining in of its proxies.
This is, of course, all just a castle in the air until a deal is reached and put into effect. A deal could be dangerous, which is why we in the Gulf would need solid guarantees about regional security, but the right one could have advantages for all.