Iran’s regional actions remain key source of Middle East instability

Chatham House experts say US return to nuclear deal considered crucial to calming tensions

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Iran’s regional foreign policy, military support for proxy groups, and missile programme continue to be crucial reasons for instability in the Middle East, experts at Chatham House think tank said.

A vital first step towards stability would be the return of the US to the 2015 nuclear deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – which Iran signed with world powers. It would gradually restore “trust and confidence” between Washington and Tehran, experts wrote in a report called ‘Steps to enable a Middle East regional security process: Reviving the JCPoA, de-escalating conflicts and building trust’.

“Iran’s regional role is a persistent factor in almost all Middle East conflicts, and addressing its activities across the region is an important contributory process to a broader JCPoA dialogue referred to as ‘more for more’ approach,” the report said.

“This bridging process is needed to protect the JCPoA from future subversion, and to address critical drivers of regional conflicts.

“Other regional states rightly view Iran’s interference in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq as deeply destabilising. To them, resolution can only be achieved through a negotiation process in which Iran concedes on these issues.”

But the authors said Arab states had failed to publicly accept that Iran was “one among many Middle East states engaging in disruptive activities”.

The report said it was accepted that the JCPoA was fragile and a new agreement was needed.

“If regional dynamics are to improve, Iran needs to recognise the counterproductive impact of its activities, while Arab states should also acknowledge that they too bear responsibility in driving conflict,” it said.

“Regionalising solutions, as argued by a majority of interviewees, rather than isolating Iran, brings a greater chance of success.”

Tehran has repeatedly breached the terms of the 2015 accord and says it will only return to compliance if US President Joe Biden’s administration withdraws sanctions levied by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Mr Biden said he wants to return to the nuclear deal, but only if Iran stops its violations.

The Chatham House report found that, among Iranian respondents, Mr Trump’s hardline approach had driven “Iran’s deeper entrenchment”.

“Tehran’s response, through its maximum resistance strategy, has been to build leverage and widen economic linkage – two factors that have so far allowed Iran to withstand the impact of sanctions,” it said.

The think tank said a new regional security framework was urgently required to calm heightened tensions.

The report said there was “no one clear pathway to addressing Iran’s role in the region”, but to do so required including, and not marginalising, Tehran.