NEW YORK // The president of the UAE congratulated his Iranian counterpart on the historic nuclear accord reached on Tuesday between Tehran and world powers.
Sheikh Khalifa sent a cable to Hassan Rouhani expressing hope that the agreement will contribute to security and stability in the region, according to Wam, the UAE’s official news agency.
After speaking to US president Barack Obama on the telephone late on Tuesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, expressed hope that the agreement would put an end to Iran’s military nuclear ambitions, Wam reported.
Mr Obama briefed Sheikh Mohammed on the nuclear agreement and stressed that the United States would strengthen its partnership with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Meanwhile, a Saudi official said on Tuesday that the nuclear deal with Iran will mean “a happy day” if it stops the country from gaining a nuclear arsenal. However, he warned that the agreement would prove bad if it allowed Tehran to “wreak havoc in the region”.
The agreement will prevent Iran from producing enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb for 15 years, and will impose an inspections regime on Iranian nuclear facilities for 25 years, including military sites.
All the potential pathways to quickly build an atom bomb have been cut off, Mr Obama said from the White House in remarks broadcast live in Iran. The deal “is not built on trust, it is built on verification”, he added, anticipating the deep resistance that the deal will face in the US congress over the next two months as the terms of the agreement are debated.
“We’ll do everything we can to stop it,” the speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, said on Tuesday after the deal was announced.
Mr Rouhani said the deal marked a “new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world, and sent a message of reconciliation to its neighbours via his Twitter account: “We do not seek #WMDs, nor exerting pressure on regional states. We call for greater brotherhood, unity and further expansion of ties.”
The deal to put strict, if impermanent, limits on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions was finally struck after a year and a half of negotiations between Iran and six world powers led by the US.
The deal likely averted eventual US military action against Iran at a time when the region could ill afford another conflict.
But the talks between the historic enemies have strained relations between Washington and its traditional allies in the region – the Gulf Arab states and Israel.
Gulf countries in particular fear that the lifting of sanctions will allow Iran to pursue with greater force its projection of power across the region through proxy and allied groups. Whether the deal results in the realisation of an even greater fear – that Washington and Tehran are starting down a path of cooperation and rapprochement – is yet to be seen.
“If this is strictly an arms-control agreement that does not lay the groundwork for a great rapprochement between Washington and Tehran then [Gulf countries] would be cautiously welcoming,” said Muath Al Wari, a senior analyst with the Centre for American Progress think tank. “However, if the deal leads to normalising Iran’s role in the region then you’re bound to see a more aggressive reaction from the GCC.”
After 15 years, Iran will be able to produce as much nuclear fuel as it likes beyond the 3.67 per cent enrichment cap, and the “breakout” time needed to rush to build a bomb could drop back down to a matter of months.
But US officials hope that the increased inspections and transparency regime will make it much more difficult for Iran to go undetected after the first 15 years.
“We will also have benefited from 15 years of an extensive and comprehensive transparency and verification regime that will allow us not only to monitor Iranian compliance, but again, to look across the entire supply chain of the Iranian nuclear programme and to have access to suspicious sites as necessary,” a senior White House official said.
The agreement allows international nuclear inspectors access to declared facilities as well as military and other sites suspected of housing illegal, undeclared nuclear work.
However, the inspectors will not be given immediate access to such sites, which means that Iran can delay inspections and add other conditions.
As Iran takes steps to reduce its nuclear capacity, that are verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, United Nations and European Union sanctions will be lifted and US unilateral sanctions will be suspended.
The agreement, which will be formalised through a UN Security Council resolution as soon as next week, will also fully lift the UN embargo on conventional weapons including ballistic missile technology after eight years.
The embargo was a final sticking point to the deal, with Iran, China and Russia arguing that it must be lifted, especially as Iran backs forces in Iraq fighting ISIL. The compromise on conventional weapons clears the way for Russia’s sale of the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran, which Gulf countries and the US have opposed.
The US secretary of defence and the top military officer both warned last week that the lifting of the arms ban would be a threat to the US and its allies. More than Iran’s nuclear programme, Gulf countries worry that the lifting of military and economic sanctions will allow Tehran to modernise and strengthen its conventional forces and send more arms and support to allied groups.
Iran stands to reap an immediate economic windfall of over US$100 billion (Dh36.7bn) in frozen assets, followed by increasing profits from energy exports once the European and Asian oil embargoes are lifted. Iran has the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and second-largest reserves of natural gas, and its production coming back online will inevitably eat into other oil producers’ market share.
The UAE has lost around $10 billion annually in formal-sector trade with Iran since the tightening of sanctions in 2012, and stands to gain significant economic benefits from Iran’s reintegration into the global economy.
“Trade with the EU could expand as much as 400 per cent, from $8.3bn last year. Economic benefits will spill across the Gulf,” Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy, wrote on Tuesday. “Dubai will become a launch pad for foreign investment in Iran.”
But those benefits will likely be viewed by Gulf officials as outweighed by the escalation of what has been an already growing cold war fought through an arms build-up and proxy forces.
Rather than pump the new windfall into its economy, many in the region fear Iran’s supreme leader will channel it instead to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and allied forces across the region, tipping the balance of power in Tehran’s favour.
“The Saudis think that the billions of dollars of unfrozen assets and having shed its international pariah status, Iran will be emboldened to further destabilise the region without much concern for international repercussions,” said Fahad Nazer, a former Saudi diplomat based in Washington. “I think a look at their very active diplomatic engagement with regional and global powers over the past few months suggests that they’ve been preparing themselves for this eventuality.”
The US has attempted to address Gulf concerns with promises of increased security and military cooperation and the expedited sale of new sophisticated defence and weapons systems.
“What we committed to do coming out of that summit was to work with them to develop the capabilities necessary to counter any malign Iranian act in the region,” a senior official said after the deal was announced. “And that will be an ongoing process that we discuss of developing those Gulf State capabilities.”
Gulf countries are waiting to see what concrete steps the US will take to back up such promises, said Mr Al Wari. “This can take the form of a much tougher sanctions regime on Iran’s regional proxies, a stronger more comprehensive missile defence system, and a comprehensive Syria policy that ultimately leads to regime change,” he said.
“The bottom line is that the ‘day after’ will have as much of an impact on the Gulf’s reaction as the deal itself.”