May 18, 2021/ Paris, France

JCPOA and Regional Stability

Kayhan Barzegar

Senior Academic Advisor, Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran

Considering the previous remarks by the panelists, I think the whole point is that the nuclear deal (the JCPOA) from the Iranian side was an examining point for further talks and making confidence-building between Iran and the West, at the top with the US, to solve some long stand strategic discrepancies on the regional issues. In this context, I believe that the regional and missile issues have always been more significant than the nuclear standoff, as it could be reversed at any point, and Iran did that by reducing its nuclear commitments in five steps, but the regional and missile issues are related to the deterrent and security matters of the state of Iran. Therefore, from the Iranian perspective packaging and relating the nuclear issue with the regional and missile issues, as perceived by the opposite side, is irrelevant and a non-starter, because if the nuclear issue is revived, then naturally regional talks will come afterwards, due to the fact that Iran has geopolitical superiority and is not afraid of any lose. In this regard, I believe the precondition for any meaningful regional talks on the Iranian side is to revive the JCPOA first and see its outcomes. It is very important to understand this logic that is related to Iran’s strategic calculus. Accordingly, Iran cannot afford to retreat from the region or lose any of its field influence unless it makes some confidence building with the West, at the top with the US, and solves its prolonged sense of strategic insecurity from the US side.

Some might say that Iran is expanding its influence in the region, but from the Iranian perspective, the current regional developments have caused a lot of national security problems stemmed from power vacuum. Not just from the US extensive military bases across the Iranian borders, or the Israeli possible military attacks by using the Arab country’s air spaces to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, but also and perhaps more significantly the threats of anti- Iranian forces such as Daesh and other terrorist groups that somehow encircled Iran. Therefore, it is very important to understand how much the current progress of reviving the JCPOA will positively enhance regional stability, as it will engage Iran to solve regional problems in a meaningful and constructive approach.

Of course, the missile issue is completely different issue, it should be separated from any packaging of this triangle, because it is a red line as a matter of Iranian prestige and of national independent defense strategy. Iran will never engage in any missile negotiations. There is a consensus amongst all political trends inside Iran, even amongst the Iranian nation to not going in this way. Undoubtedly, a successful revival of the JCPOA will enhance the regional stability. There is an opportunity right now for the two sides to go in that direction and try to reach an agreement that could be acceptable for both sides. That could relief Iran from its traditional sense of strategic insecurity from the US. The big mistake of the Trump administration was that it thought, together with its allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, that by weakening Iran from inside they could take Iran to the negotiation table and achieve their goals. It was wrong. Stronger Iran will better talk, powerful Iran that has political consensus inside its political trends will better talk, because it feels more secure. I hope that Joe Biden’s administration understands this situation. In the end, the Trump’s “maximum pressure policy” ended up to Iran’s “maximum presence policy” in the region, this time in a more effective way. The assassination of commander Qasem Soleimani has led some analysts to believe that Iran’s activities is much confined right now, but I think otherwise and believe that Iran is acting more effectively. You can see how much the field is significant and perceived as important for the Iranian elites. The Supreme Leader mentioned this in a very obvious way. Iran will go ahead with adding to its field influence so far as it feels insecure from the region.

Another benefit of the revival of the JCPOA would be the processing of the Iran-Saudi talks. We have negotiation right now, and it could go further if it is in the context of solving regional crises such as the Yemeni crisis. Iran will welcome any bilateral talks on the regional issues with Saudi Arabia. Iran officials mentioned that they will talk to the Saudis in any circumstances. But they will not talk with the US directly. I think it is a bitter reality for the Iranians right now, Barbara mentioned that the Iranians are sympathetic towards the West. No, they are not. The Trump administration and its European companions who put Iran on economic hardships made this terrible sense of distrust towards the West in Iranians, who wanted and hoped in an accommodating way to settle their country’s issues with the West for a better economic future, but the US betrayed them by withdrawing from the JCPOA and imposing sanctions on the country. Therefore, in a way a sense of anti-Western sentiment amongst the Iranian nation that is growing. This sense is also strengthened by some European countries’ betrayal by not implementing their promises under the JCPOA agreement. This feeling is strong inside Iran, we should not imagine that nothing has changed. The Trump administration changed many things inside Iran bringing about new expectations. Again, the success of the ongoing nuclear negotiations will bring about good relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran is ready to use its field influence to solve the Yemeni crisis. Despite some views in the West that Iran does not have that much influence on the Yemeni friendly forces, Iran dose have the influence and is ready to solve the issue for the sake of bringing stability to the broader region in the context of Iran’s interests as every country would do it.

Giving an example of Iran’s tendency to settle the regional issues, and as a foreign policy constant and conduct, Iran believes that the security in the Persian Gulf, as Dr. Ali Vaez mentioned, should be collective and the country respects it. Iran was part of offering any opportunity and initiatives such as the Hormuz Peace Endeavour (HOPE) by which Iran wanted to show its positiveness by adding articles to the plan such as non-intervention, non- subversion issues. It is also important to understand that Iran accepts the fact and the reality of the presence of other foreign powers in the region and is trying to adjust with this situation. Yet, Iran’s main goal is to diversify such foreign presence in order to restrict the US hegemonic ambition in the region. Tehran is interested to see Russia, China, India and other countries in the Persian Gulf. It accepts the reality that other countries have also interests in this region. But Iran would like to settle any tension in a regional context, based on preserving regional interests and with a local approach. Other powers could have monitoring presence in this collective endeavor.

Lastly, a successful revival of the JCPOA will bring about a kind of regional multilateralism which will assure sustainable stability for the region. Some believe that the US and Iran have strategic common interests in the region, but I think this is not true, they have a lot of strategic discrepancies in the region, because a regional power would never be interested to see a hostile superpower to come close and station across its border. Therefore, it is my understanding that a degree of tension will exist between Iran and the US (and other Western powers) so far as they deny Iran’s regional role. Just like what exist between Russia and China and the US in different part of the world, despite passing many years of settling major issues between them.