6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement

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Webcast Recap

Four experts discussed the Iran Project’s new report, Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement. The panelists focused on the implications of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran for U.S. policy on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

On September 17, 2014, the Iran Project and the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a discussion, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” featuring Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former U.S ambassador to Israel, the Russian Federation, India, El Salvador, and Jordan; Ambassador Frank Wisner, former U.S. ambassador to India, Zambia, Egypt, and the Philippines; Paul Pillar, veteran of the U.S. intelligence community and former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia; and Barnett R. Rubin, Director and Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation of New York University. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, provided welcoming remarks, and Ambassador William Luers, former U.S. Ambassador to Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union, gave introductory remarks.

Pickering opened the discussion by giving an overview of the Iran Project’s latest report. He emphasized the report was put together to look ahead at what might happen in the region if a nuclear agreement is reached with Iran. Pickering mentioned that in the event of a deal, the United States should enhance its ties with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf in order to ease any concerns they may have and more closely associate with Israel to highlight the benefits of the deal to the country.

Wisner discussed the fallout of a nuclear deal on Syria. He argued that Syria can be an area of potential U.S. cooperation with Iran, given the significant role Iran plays in that country. Wisner stressed that Iran’s positions on Syria are not frozen, and that while it seeks to maintain access to Syria, it is not wedded to the outcome. He also explained that similar to Iraq, an inclusive political structure is needed to end the civil war that has engulfed Syria. In this regard, Wisner said a third Geneva conference is absolutely essential.

Pillar focused on Iranian interests in Iraq and how a nuclear agreement will allow for greater cooperation between Iran and the United States. Pillar argued that Iran’s priority vis-à-vis Iraq is to avoid a hostile government in Baghdad that could repeat the Iran-Iraq War. Pillar said the Iranians are smart enough to know they cannot get the ideal government they wish for in Baghdad, and therefore they are willing to compromise to achieve a stable political situation in Iraq. Pillar further posited that ISIS represents an area of shared interests between Iran and the United States, and that a nuclear deal would improve communication and coordination between the two sides in combatting the group.

Rubin discussed Iran’s role and interests in Afghanistan. He contended that Iran wants Afghanistan stabilized, but not by Sunni extremists or through U.S. military presence. Rubin delved into the history of Iran cooperating with the United States in Afghanistan and argued that with the current political crisis in Afghanistan, cooperation between Iran and the United States is necessary.

During the question and answer session, Esfandiari asked what the reaction of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf will be when, in the event of a nuclear deal, Iran becomes a partner that sits across from them at the negotiating table. Wisner answered that the United States will have to make it clear to these states that it will take no actions that will surprise them and that the United States has no intentions of diminishing its security structures in the Persian Gulf, which gives the Gulf states a central position.

By Sina Toossi, Middle East Program