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Editorial: World must rein in Iran before inking deal

A deal with Iran over its nuclear program is supposed to be inked by the end of next month. It will focus almost entirely on the International Atomic Energy Agency being given unrestricted access to nuclear sites. It will not take account of Iran’s deadly meddling in the Middle East. It will not commit the government in Tehran to restoring friendly relations with its neighbors in the Gulf.
As Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman pointed out this week to fellow GCC leaders in Riyadh, the agreement has to have wide and strict provisions. Without them, there is a clear danger of an arms race.
Iran is suffering badly from the international sanctions imposed upon it. The covert support of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is doing little to help ordinary Iranians. Popular discontent is rising. The government in Tehran fears the consequences. It is desperate for the lifting of sanctions. The minute they end, whether in stages, as the Group 5+1 insists, or immediately, as the Iranians are demanding, all chance of curbing Tehran’s misbehavior in the region is gone.
Iran has been in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It has obstructed the international inspections that, by signing the NPT, it agreed to facilitate. It has insisted that its top secret research is for civilian, not military use. If that was ever true, there never ought to have been a problem allowing in IAEA inspectors.
It has to be suspected that the 12 long years of talks were all about buying time for Iranian nuclear scientists. The Iranians saw what happened with maverick North Korea. Once the regime in Pyongyang had detonated its first nuclear device, the rules of the game changed. Iran, like North Korea, has also been developing longer range rockets, capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
In addition, while the marathon talks dragged on, Iran stepped up its regional interference. The support for Bashar Assad in Syria and for the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon has fostered ruin and tragedy. More than 300,000 people have died and millions turned into refugees thanks to Iranian and Russian interference. In Iraq, Iran has backed division. It has supported murderous militias. The fanatical terrorists of IS are in part the product of Iranian meddling. They are welcomed by Tehran because they add to regional instability.
Iran has also sought to sow discord in GCC states. Iranian agitators were responsible for the riots in Bahrain. They tried and failed to stir up similar discontent in Eastern Province. And now they have organized and armed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Yet more tragedy and more destruction and loss of life can be laid directly at the door of the Iranian government.
The international community well understands Iran’s malevolent meddling. The support given to the Saudi-led Decisive Storm air operation, to halt the Yemen rebels in their tracks, is proof that it accepts the need for firm and unflinching responses to Iranian adventurism.
This makes it a mystery that the nuclear negotiations have not been broadened to secure a wider outcome. The G5+1 may complain that it has been hard enough to reach even the framework deal agreed last month. To have thrown in more substantial negotiating points would have destroyed the talks completely.
But this is blinkered and foolish. Forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program was never the key issue. A Middle East nuclear arms race is, as King Salman said, a terrible threat. But he also looked to the wider issue of convincing Iran to revert to being a good neighbor. Thus reaching a wide agreement based on a commitment not to interfere in the affairs of other states is crucial.
There has never been a better opportunity for this to come about. At the heart of the solution is the hard-hitting sanctions regime. Assuming that the Iranians do actually agree to abide by the treaty obligation, one way or another the sanctions will end. When this happens a critical lever will be lost. Iran will be free to carry on with its expansionist policies and its promotion of religious division.
The nuclear deal therefore needs to be recast. It must be made part of a regional treaty involving all stakeholders, including the GCC members. Tehran has been playing games for long enough over its nuclear weapons program. It needs to be convinced that its tragic regional interference must end. It also needs to understand that it has everything to gain from a stable and prosperous Middle East.

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