Iran’s neighbors must be consulted on future of nuclear deal

Iran’s neighbors must be consulted on future of nuclear deal

As the world waits for US President Donald Trump’s decision on whether he will reinstate sanctions on Iran, one part of the world cares most. That region, of course, is the Middle East, where certain countries fear an expansionist Iran becoming a nuclear power. To some Middle East nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE, the current antagonistic regime in Iran represents a genuine threat.

Yet not one regional neighbor of Iran participated in the negotiations that led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). They were not invited, even though the purpose was to dissuade Tehran from pursuing the types of weapons that would terrorize them first before any other nations. Rather, the negotiations were led by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China and Germany.\

The whole spectacle of six non-Middle Eastern countries, dubbing themselves the P5+1 and negotiating for the security of a region in which they do not sit, was reminiscent of the early 20th century. By now the actions of Britain and France, with the assent of Russia, surrounding the Sykes-Picot Agreement are well-known and much ridiculed. During the First World War, European powers thought it acceptable and wise to create borders and divide a region far away from themselves. Not only was it unreasonable, it was also unwise.

In 2014 and 2015, six countries not in the Middle East believed it acceptable and wise to set terms with Iran that most impact Iran’s neighbors. It was not wise. After all, there is no threat of conflict between China and Iran, Russia and Iran, the UK and Iran, France and Iran, or Germany and Iran. The P5+1 nations were not foremost concerned with regional security or peace. For the most part, they were concerned about business and economics.

The best evidence for this is simply the makeup of this P5+1 group. The P5 represents the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. These are also the five countries whose ownership of nuclear weapons is accepted by most nations through treaty. This may be sufficient reason for them to be included in the negotiations — but then Germany was included too.

By ignoring Middle East voices, P5+1 are repeating the mistakes of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Ellen R. Wald

Germany is not a military power. Germany is not a permanent member of the Security Council. Germany does not have nuclear weapons. What Germany has is a huge economy, business dealings with Iran and the desire for more business dealings with Iran. The whole negotiation presented an image, at times, of an attempt to open and encourage more commerce.

That is a reasonable goal for China or a European power, but not for a Middle Eastern country that has experienced the belligerent rhetoric of the Iranian regime and the violent activities of Iran’s terrorist proxies. Middle East countries care about their security before they care about trade with Iran. Their motivations are markedly different from those of the P5+1 that negotiated the JCPOA.

This is precisely the problem. It was a deal negotiated for the world by parties with certain objectives — trade and the illusion of peace — while the Middle East has another priority: Security. Iran’s neighbors are going to protect themselves, regardless of what world powers tell them or decide for them.

This past weekend, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to the Middle East, where Israeli and Saudi leaders could make their cases to him concerning Iran. Then, on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented 100,000 secret documents that he claimed Mossad took from Iran, allegedly detailing Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. He made the speech mostly in English, for the world to hear. That is almost all Middle East leaders can do at this point: Petition the United States and the other P5+1 nations and make presentations to the world.

Of course, there is one other thing Middle East countries can do to protect themselves. They can increase spending on defense, prepare their militaries and strike at the Iranian terrorist proxies on their borders. This is exactly what the region’s countries have been forced to do because they have been left out of the negotiations.

Now, pundits across America and in Europe are talking about a renegotiation of the JCPOA. Both President Emanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently visited Trump, presumably in part to discuss Iran. The hot topic in Washington seems to be that the deal could be preserved in a revised form, and it is possible that this is Trump’s preference. The president has refused to rule out renegotiating the nuclear deal and has reiterated that it remains a possibility. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani apparently told Macron that the deal cannot be renegotiated, which only means that he is driving a hard bargain.

But if the P5+1 plan to push Iran for new terms, they would be wise to include Iran’s neighbors in the process this time. The only truly effective deal would necessarily take into account the security concerns of Middle Eastern nations. Any other deal will always remain tenuous at best. We learned that much from Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.


  • Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Arabia Foundation, a Washington think tank, and the president of Transversal Consulting. She also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University.
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