An historic choice awaits Iran’s leaders

What Iran does next will determine the Gulf’s position on this nuclear deal

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif waves from a balcony of the Palais Coburg Hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna. Joe Klamar / AFP
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Well, they did it. After years of talks, of diplomacy and threats, of positive noises and negative signals, and after a marathon session in Vienna, finally Iran, Russia, America, China and major European powers are on the same page. A deal has been reached.

Already the celebrations have begun. Iran’s population, the majority of them young, yearn, like all of us, for the opportunity to build their own lives and careers, to study, travel and work freely.

A country as great as Iran, a country with so much history, ambition and potential, should never have been so restricted. Sanctions have taken a brutal toll on ordinary Iranians. On this side of the Arabian Gulf, we have never wished that pain on the Iranian people – but we have also wished for responsible behaviour from the Iranian government. Stopping Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons would indeed be, as Saudi Arabia said yesterday, “a happy day”.

This, then, is an historic moment for Iran and for Iran’s leaders. They face a crucial choice and an important test. On Twitter, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani wrote: “With this unnecessary crisis resolved, new horizons emerge with a focus on shared challenges.” If Mr Rouhani and his government genuinely mean that sentiment, and demonstrate it in the coming months, a new era in Arab-Iranian relations will have opened.

But it will take action, not words. With this new nuclear deal will come billions of dollars in released funds. What Iran does with the money will determine how the Gulf views the deal. If they use it to build infrastructure, to invest in the talents of their people, and build a genuine, positive relationship with their neighbours, then there will be celebrations on this side of the Gulf as well.

If, on the other hand, they continue their meddling, continue to foment unrest in Yemen and Iraq, and continue their support for the regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, then all the fears of the Gulf will have been realised. It will be the old Iran, merely with new window dressing. The same Saudi official who pronounced yesterday a happy one also warned that Tehran must not be allowed to “wreak havoc” once the shackles of sanctions are released.

Bringing Iran into the fold of nations is a prize worth pursuing. Prosperity on that side of the Gulf will bring more prosperity on this side. If Tehran is serious about change, then the deal could be a real turning point in the modern history of the Middle East.