US Needs Iran Coop. in Mideast

US Needs Iran Coop. in MideastUS Needs Iran Coop. in Mideast

Iran's cooperation is key to US efforts to protect its interests by addressing regional crises, but attempts by the US Congress to sink the July nuclear deal could fatally undermine the chances of such cooperation, as it would reinforce Iranians' distrust of the US, a former diplomat said.

Hossein Mousavian, a research scholar at Princeton University and a former spokesman for nuclear negotiators, wrote in a recent column in USA Today that US efforts to restore stability in the Middle East are tied to the fate of the nuclear accord the US administration negotiated with Iran, along with five other powers.

When the negotiations leading to the historic agreement kicked off with renewed hope after President Hassan Rouhani's inauguration in August 2013, Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei was quick to endorse the diplomatic efforts but also stressed that the "US government is not trustworthy".

Indeed, the main impediment to normal relations between Iran and the United States since the 1979 Islamic Revolution has been the mutual mistrust between the two sides.

Iran, for its part, has a long list of legitimate grievances. The US supported Saddam Hussein in the conflict that began with his invasion of Iran in 1980, sparking an eight-year war that cost the lives of over 300,000 Iranians and resulted in an estimated $1.19 trillion in damage to both sides.

During the war, the Iraqi Army used chemical weapons against Iran, killing and injuring over 50,000 civilians.

The Iran nuclear talks saw for the first time Iran and the United States engaging in serious negotiations at the highest levels after over 35 years of hostility. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry sat down and directly talked with one another to resolve one of the most pressing international crises.

  Commendable Job

In terms of abiding by its commitments under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran has done a commendable job.

Neither the IAEA nor other parties to the deal have ever publicly found Iran to be in violation of either the Nov. 2013 interim deal or the JCPOA.

However, there have been some distressing developments as the JCPOA's "Implementation Day" approached. The more Iran moved to complete its commitments, the more the US Congress has in parallel explored new ways to impose sanctions on Iran.

One notorious example is the recent visa legislation, which would discourage the flow of foreign investment and tourism. Even worse than the visa bill, there are also now reports of multiple other Iran-related bills circulating in the US House of Representatives that would undercut the nuclear deal.

From the Iranian perspective, the JCPOA is a test of whether or not it can trust the United States.

The fate of broader US-Iran cooperation rests on whether or not the JCPOA is successfully implemented. The two sides are currently at a critical juncture.

If the United States proceeds with expanding sanctions on Iran, even if it does so under the umbrella of terrorism or human rights and does so in ways that do not directly violate the JCPOA, it will make the JCPOA worthless for Iran, vindicating the predominant line of thinking in Tehran that the United States cannot be trusted.

The bottom line is that the Middle East is on the verge of total collapse and we need cooperation and not more confrontation.

By pursuing legislation to sink the Iran deal, the US Congress will fuel regional crises and the promise of the JCPOA that the United States and Iran could move on to cooperate on fighting the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group and on finding solutions to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen will be lost.

US decision-makers are faced with a stark choice—properly implementing the JCPOA or having to contend with a far more precarious situation in the Middle East. This is the choice for the Americans to make.