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Iran looks for an exit
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 22 - 02 - 2018

Despite the pressure being put on Iran by US President Donald Trump over the Iran nuclear deal and the threat that the US may exit from the agreement, some have been seeing hope that the agreement will continue unchanged.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in instructions to the US Embassy to the EU that it should indicate its commitment to the deal and its desire to “improve” it, while at the same time Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif has reacted positively to the idea of regional talks with Iran's Arab neighbours.
According to a Reuters report, the US wants to see Britain, France and Germany commit to “work together to seek a supplemental or follow-on agreement” to the 2015 international deal governing Iran's nuclear programme “that addresses Iran's development or testing of long-range missiles, ensures strong [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] inspections, and fixes the flaws of the ‘sunset clause'” in the deal.
The “sunset clause” refers to the date of 2025 in the original deal when restrictions on Iran's nuclear programme could be lifted.
However, the deal is still threatened by Trump's possible refusal to certify Iran's compliance with it on 12 May. The Tillerson letter revealed by Reuters indicates that commitments by the EU countries could save the deal over the coming weeks or months.
Almost three years after Iran's signing of the deal in July 2015, there has been unexplained hesitation by Tehran in engaging with the region. However, at this week's Munich Security Conference, Zarif expressed his country's concerns over regional security.
Many of those at the conference had identified Iran as a factor of instability in the region and the need for a coalition to deter threats coming from militias associated with Iran, but Zarif set out a different path.
US Ambassador to the UN in New York Nikki Haley said that the US wanted to extend the existing UN Security Council Resolution placing an arms embargo on Yemen for another year and make Iran accountable for the failure to prevent the sending of missiles to the Houthi rebels in the country.
US National Security Adviser H R McMaster said in Munich that the US “would not tolerate” Iran's creating instability in the region.
Should the UN Security Council Resolution promoted by Haley receive French and British support, this would lead to a coalition in the council condemning Iran's participation in the Yemen War and highlighting its regional role, but falling short of sanctioning the country.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Munich and expressed concerns at Iran's provision of missiles to the Houthi rebels, with May saying that the UK “understood” US worries at Iran's behaviour and was ready to take action to confront it.
In response, Zarif talked about security in the Gulf, warning that current circumstances could lead to a crisis. He asked for new and secure arrangements between Iran and its Arab neighbours, but did not say what kind of arrangements he had in mind.
Iran has had several years since the nuclear deal to improve its relations with its Arab neighbours, but it has shown little interest in doing so. It may now be that Iran wants to see an exit from the deadlock over the nuclear deal and Trump's threats against it, and that the prospect of improved relations in the region may provide this.
It is not up to Zarif alone to arrange such regional talks, and it will be hard to build trust and improve Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan when distrust and animosity is still high.
However, no one in the region wants to see another crisis, and all are waiting to hear more about Zarif's proposals and his desire to save the nuclear deal through a regional agreement.
It will be interesting to see what commitments the EU can give to the US ahead of Trump's deadline of 12 May for the recertification of the nuclear deal and whether these will be enough to convince him to remain committed to it.

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