Now that the Iran nuclear deal is a done deal, what next?
Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 23, 2016- More quickly than expected, Tehran has dismantled large portions of its nuclear program, leading to the lifting of the sanctions imposed on its nuclear activities.
US former ambassador to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan and an experienced negotiator with the Iranians, Ryan Crocker says, "To me, this is a transactional relationship, not transformational, just like the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated pretty good arms agreements."
The point is well taken: The nuclear accord is unlikely to improve the broader U.S.-Iranian relationship. On the contrary, it could get much worse.
"But I don't see any sign that Iran is going to change its policies in the region," Crocker added. "We need to make it clear that this is not a bold new dawn."
The real power in Iran lies in the hands of the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who made clear his continuing and intense distrust of Washington. Khamenei has emphasized that negotiations over the nuclear talks were unrelated to any other issues.
Moreover, the Iraq-Syria file is in the hands of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, whose world view was shaped by Iran's decade-long war with Iraq.
That experience leaves Soleimani with little interest in the kind of political compromise between Shiites and Sunnis in Syria that would be necessary to end the fighting. Iran will not stop supporting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad (nor will it stop sending anti-Israel arms to its ally, Hezbollah, in Lebanon, via Damascus).
Thus, any administration hopes that a new relationship with Iran will translate into progress on shaky Syria peace talks are badly misplaced.
The same caution holds true in Iraq, where a Shiite-led government needs to make a place for the Sunni minority in the system if it wants to stabilize the country. Soleimani, and Iran's local Iraqi Shiite proxies, have blocked that approach.
The administration must stop giving the impression it will no longer stand up to malign Iranian behavior in the region because it fears jeopardizing the nuclear accord (most Arab Sunnis believe Washington has entered into an alliance with Tehran). It means the White House should back much tougher sanctions in response to recent — or any future — Iranian missile tests in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
It means the United States should push back much harder against Iranian behavior that fuels sectarian war in the Mideast.
"We should do what Iran does," says Crocker. "Iran is pushing in the region as if there were no nuclear agreement, and they don't seem worried that they will jeopardize it. We should do the same."