By Ambassador Thomas Pickering, AIC Honorary Board Member
Originally published in the Tennessean
Our new president will face many tough challenges in devising a strategy to assure America’s future security. But the president who takes office Jan. 20 will be the first since 1979 who will not have to devise immediately a strategy to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
The nuclear agreement reached with Iran last year provides strong assurance that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years. Achieving that singular objective brought together China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. to negotiate with Iran the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran without a nuclear weapon is far less threatening.
This groundbreaking agreement does not by any means suggest that Iran will disappear as a concern for the U.S. in the Middle East. While U.S. and Iranian approaches are parallel on some regional issues, on others they are conflicted. Whether America’s relations with Iran will be confrontational or cooperative depends both on how we deal with Iran and how Iran responds.
First, the new president must work with our P5-plus-1 partners to ensure that Iran continues to comply with its commitments under the JCPOA.
Second, the new U.S. administration should explore further ways to cooperate with Iran in regional conflicts where there are some common objectives: collaborate in pursuit of the defeat of a common enemy, ISIS; urge Iran to continue to be helpful in Iraq in pressuring the Iraqi government to include more Sunni Iraqis in recovering and rebuilding the Sunni areas that are being retaken from ISIS; and expand collaboration in Afghanistan where U.S. and Iran’s objectives are closely aligned.
Third, continue to seek common objectives with Iran and others on steps that need to be taken in Syria to establish a cease-fire and work with Syrians toward a transitional government, a new constitution and elections. There is clearly no military solution to that proxy-supported civil war, and a political solution will be impossible without Iran and the political cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to bring along the Syrian parties.
Fourth, the JCPOA is one of the most important nonproliferation agreements in decades and it can serve as a model for setting new world standards for better management of uranium and plutonium enrichment, including limits on the amount and quality of enriched material, enhanced inspection, and multilateral participation in ownership of peaceful nuclear programs.
In these early stages of the implementation of the JCPOA, many Americans will correctly retain a high level of skepticism about Iran’s intentions. The U.S. and other nations will face continued tensions, disagreements and even confrontation with Iran – particularly with the region in turmoil.
Yet, if Iran continues to comply with its JCPOA obligations, a new American administration may be able to take a longer view and employ diplomatic options to realize additional positive results from the nuclear deal.
During this uncertain period, a new U.S. president will have to collaborate closely with the P5-plus-1 states, Israel and the Gulf states while designing strategies to reinforce the chances of Iran becoming a positive and constructive regional power. These diplomatic efforts will always have to be balanced by establishing clear limits on what the U.S. and its partners find tolerable for Iran’s actions in the region.