How the United States’ deal with Iran looks to the rest of the world

REUTERS/Andrew Harnik/Pool
President Barack Obama delivering a statement Tuesday morning about the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six major world powers.

A deal over Iran’s nuclear program has just moved from being a hypothetical to an established fact.

Does the world look like a different place today? And if so, how?

Reaching an agreement, as agonizing as the negotiations were, is not the same thing as implementing it, of course. Even with the best of intentions (not a given), that will take time. It will depend heavily on people who were not represented at the table. President Obama will be long out of office and Iran’s aging supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, may well be dead before all the restrictions are lifted on his country’s nuclear program.

But if you’re making policy in Jerusalem or Riyadh (or Moscow, Berlin or Pyongyang, for that matter) the fact that Americans and Iranians were able to sit across from each other for months and finally agree might well change your outlook and your calculations.

You’ll want to see exactly how rocky the rollout will be. There certainly will be hiccups. And you’ll be keeping a very close eye on the next U.S. presidential election. The Republican candidates are uniformly skeptical, and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has a reputation of being relatively tough on foreign policy. But a policy that’s in place — particularly if all parties are more or less doing what they said they’d do — creates its own momentum, and can be difficult to reverse.

Let’s briefly try to get inside the heads of some of world leaders who might be watching this most carefully to see how it looks to them.

Benjamin Netanyahu:  The Israeli prime minister’s opposition to the deal has been consistent and vehement. That won’t change. Even before it was formally announced, Netanyahu denounced it as an “historic mistake.” For him and many in Israel, this is a matter of Israel’s security, and possibly of its very survival. Since the agreement is about Iran’s nuclear program, it does not prevent the Islamic Republic from continuing to support for organizations like Hezbollah, which the United States, Israel and a number of others regard as a terrorist organization. In the longer term, he fears, it will free a country whose leaders have called for the destruction of Israel to pursue nuclear capability.

There is a more subtle question for Israeli society as a whole. The agreement emphasizes Israel’s estrangement from the Obama administration and a growing international isolation largely due to Netanyahu’s security policies. Does it draw further inward to protect itself? Or does it rethink those policies, look to shore up traditional alliances and build new ones?

King Salman of Saudi Arabia: For the Saudis, the most important thing is the regional conflict between the two main branches of Islam. The Saudis and other Sunni-dominated Arab states compete with Shiite Iran for influence across a highly unstable arc of the Middle East that includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran ships arms to Syria President Bashar Assad; Saudi Arabia wants him gone. Iran is closely allied with Iraq’s Shiite-led government. Saudi Arabia is deeply concerned about the mistreatment of Iraq’s Sunni minority.  The Saudis are uncomfortable with what appears to them to be, at minimum, a U.S. disengagement from the Middle East, and at the worst a potential realignment toward Iran. Under Salman, instead of counting on Washington, they have taken military action across their border in Yemen against the Houthis, a rebel group they believe to be influenced by Iran.

In their worries about U.S. disengagement or realignment, the Saudis actually might find some common ground with Netanyahu. The bigger question is whether the Saudis are so concerned about Iran that they pursue their own nuclear weapon. They certainly have the money and expertise.

Vladimir Putin: Unlike Netanyahu or Salman, the Russian president was represented at the negotiations with Iran. Moscow praised the agreement. The talks certainly reinforced one very important point. Under Obama, the United States is much more focused on diplomacy than military action. So if Putin needed any more reassurance the Obama would stay out of the Ukraine conflict, he got it.

The deal probably looks pretty good for other reasons, as well. Russia wants to be able to sell arms to Iran, and is well positioned to do so. The lifting of an embargo on conventional weapons was one of the final sticking points. Iran did not win an immediate end to it. Instead, it will be phased in, so both sides can foresee a point when arms sales can begin. Further, Russia has a large Muslim minority and its own concerns about violence spilling over from the Middle East. To the extent that it is worried that Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, both Sunni groups, are making inroads in its Caucasus region, strengthening Shiite Iran probably looks like a good idea. 

Angela Merkel: The German chancellor and other European leaders are concerned about stability in the Middle East. But for a region that is struggling economically, the implications of this deal are very big. Bringing Iran back into the world market will tend to push down prices for petroleum imports. In addition, European businesses are much better situated than Americans to fill Iran’s pent-up demand for equipment to modernize its oil and gas industry. And if Iran fully rejoins the world economy, there will be big, new market for consumer goods. European businesses will be eager to get their share.

Kim Jong Un:  This is a bit of a stretch, but it’s interesting to consider. Sitting in Pyongyang, you’ve probably noticed something interesting about the United States in recent months. First, there was the rapprochement with Cuba. Now there’s the agreement with Iran. If the U.S. can start to patch up those relationships, might there be a way to talk to North Korea, as well?  You might well conclude that for your own political survival, you need to keep the U.S. as an enemy.  But if not…?

Even if they’re not exactly miracles, some surprising things have been happening.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 07/14/2015 - 03:16 pm.

    Great we just agreed to a deal with a country that was chanting “death to America, death to Israel” 4 days ago. We give them access to a hundred billion dollars and the ability to stock up on intercontinental missiles. We are trusting the Iranians to hold up their end of the bargain after they have been exporting terror throughout the Mid East for the past 40 yrs. When the Russians and Chinese applaud the deal and Israel condemns it, there is a problem!

    • Submitted by jason myron on 07/14/2015 - 07:01 pm.

      Gee, Joe….

      your post is practically verbatim with every GOP candidate that’s hyperventilating about this deal. We have a history of doing deals with countries we hate..the USSR & China come to mind immediately, and they were bigger threats to us than Iran could ever hope to be. The fact is the GOP can’t tolerate peaceful solutions to complex world issues as it interferes with their prime ideological tenet…keep their base living in fear of everything.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/14/2015 - 09:15 pm.


      Are we talking about the same agreement? Because this agreement, entered into by multiple counties, provides for inspections and a return of sanctions if Iran does not comply.

      Are you getting confused with Ronald Reagan, who broke the law and secretly sold weapons to Iran? Because that one was a really bad deal.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 07/15/2015 - 11:58 am.

      $100 billion’s peanuts where we come from

      Not sure how it works (haven’t read it), but Iran won’t be getting a bag full of million dollar bills if it becomes official. They’ll have to jump through hoops along the way.

      But when it comes to financing activities that make innocent people’s lives miserable, if not over, by blowing up their homes, businesses, cities, electrical and sewer systems, et cetera, don’t forget that we the people of the USA have been spending an average of about $100 billion PER YEAR of our hard earned tax dollars on that kind of stuff ever since G. Bush, R. Cheney and Company decided it was imperative that we shock and awe the evil doers with the weapons of mass destruction no one could find.

      I know that’s not “terrorism” (because we’re against terrorism), but we HAVE spent a whole lot more money than Iran could dream of (ten times more, so far) on things that have killed somewhere around 1/2 million people since the (undeclared) “war on terror” and evil-doers everywhere began 12 or so years ago.

      And when it comes to those “Death to America” campaign signs and chants, even though that was probably just standard stagecraft organized by the “hard liners,” try imaging how YOU’D feel if you came back from vacation and found a shock and awe bomb or hellfire missile had turned your place into a crater in the middle of the forest-fired moonscape created by a little, “just to be sure no evil doers escaped,” carpet bombing.

      That’d be kind of a drag, wouldn’t it? Especially if your insurance company got bombed and sanctioned out of business too, and, all of a sudden, your credit cards didn’t work anywhere, and nobody would take your calls or let you into your bank because it was all over for them too.

      And there you might be, realizing there was (temporarily?) no such thing as money or home for you. If you had enough gas to make it back down the road to the nearest “refugee camp,” where people were looking for volunteers to hit the streets carrying “Death to Wisconsin!” signs, do you suppose you might be tempted to help out?

  2. Submitted by Steve Vigoren on 07/14/2015 - 10:53 pm.

    Great, er,..fantastic!, we just agreed to

    try something that has a chance of changing the never ending war situation we find ourselves in. Let us remember that the U.S. government backed the coup in Iran that put a brutal dictator (the Shah) in power sixty odd years ago. A lot of Iranians have a lot of relatives that died thanks to us. We can always dive back into war any old time we want. I hope the American voters see through the war for war’s sake bluster coming from one side of the aisle today. When I read President Obama’s speech today, I thought of John Lennon and Yoko Ono sitting in a bed in Toronto all those years ago singing “Give peace a chance”. That’s all we are saying…..

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