In interviews following the announcement of the framework agreement in Geneva, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that a final nuclear deal could be the start of a new relationship between the United States and Iran. Iran’s regional neighbors are worried about a deal for exactly these reasons—that a deal could tilt the regional balance of power in Iran’s favor.
Yet fears that a deal will lead to a major readjustment in U.S. regional strategy are overblown. Even if the administration is interested in reorienting its regional policies, there are a number of obstacles that will stand in the way. In other words, as significant as a final nuclear agreement would be, it may not prove transformative—at least not without considerable effort.
To begin with, the United States will likely pursue post-deal policies that contradict broader engagement with Iran. It is nearly a given that the United States will want to give a number of “assurances”—increased security assistance and cooperation (especially on missile defense)—to close partners. Reports suggest that Israel may be expecting U.S. pledges to protect Israel’s own nuclear deterrence capabilities. This will be tricky, since the Saudis will likely press the United States to do the opposite: build a nuclear-free Middle East by insisting that Israel get rid of its own capabilities. The United States won’t be able to do both. Meanwhile, stepped up U.S. security cooperation with its Arab allies in the region could lead Iran to feel encircled, which could embolden the hardliners who argue against expanding cooperation with Washington.
Indeed, Iran’s own behavior in the aftermath of a final deal could also get in the way of better
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