Challenges to bar Iran from using freed funds to destabilize region – experts

By Ronald Baygents

WASHINGTON, March 18 (KUNA) — A three-member expert panel, discussing “Next Steps for US-Iran Relations” at the Council On Foreign Relations think tank, agreed that a major challenge will be preventing Iran from further destabilizing the region by utilizing funds it will receive from the lifting of sanctions via the 2015 agreement that limits the Iran nuclear program.
“We have to acknowledge that that (agreement) gives them some assets that they can use for destabilizing activities, and therefore it is on us to do other things to prevent them from doing that,” said Philip Gordon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The United States must “hold Iran’s feet to the fire” to make sure it complies with terms of the nuclear deal and does not “finesse around the margins” of the agreement, said Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The key goal of US policy in the near and medium term is to try to preserve the multilateral coalition that helped bring about the nuclear deal with Iran, Maloney said.
“We are going to have new tensions in the relationship among the P-5,” she said, referring to the Permanent 5 members of the UN Security Council, when it comes to defining the “red lines” of Iranian behavior.
Some flaws in the nuclear deal need to be fixed, and the United States must determine what happens in 10 to 15 years after the deal expires, said Michael Singh, senior fellow and managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Singh said other issues include “further nuclear proliferation in the region by Iran’s rivals,” and countering Iran’s “ambitions, actions and policies in the region” through directly countering Iran and “thinking about our (military) force posture” in the region.
Gordon said the focus going forward should be “enforcing” the nuclear deal, not “fixing” it. The idea of a new US president fundamentally altering the deal is a “non-starter,” he said.
Turning to the issue of whether Iran is violating UN resolutions with its recent ballistic missile tests, Singh said it appears the previous UN resolution on the issue was “bargained away.” This conclusion is based on the wording of a new UN resolution on the issue which refers to ballistic missiles “designed” to be capable of carrying a nuclear weapon instead of missiles simply deemed capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, he said.
The reality is that Iran has more economic and diplomatic opportunities than it did before the nuclear deal was signed last summer, Maloney said, “and we are going to have to find a way to address the concerns that we have, and that we share with our allies, about Iran’s behavior without going back and re-litigating the terms of the JCPA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).” Regarding Iran’s regional role, Maloney said there is more the United States and its allies should be doing regarding Iranian behavior in Syria, Yemen and with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“This is not a free rein for Iran to expand its influence around the region,” she said.
Singh said he does not see the United States countering Iran in a significant way anywhere in the region.
Gordon disagreed, citing a lengthy list of ongoing US diplomatic, economic and military ties to the Gulf states and others who aim to counter Iranian influence.
Singh countered by saying a key question going forward will be how vigorously the remaining sanctions against Iran, as well as secondary sanctions involving elements within Iran, will be enforced.
On the subject of the widespread victory by the so-called pragmatic allies of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the parliamentary elections in Iran last month, Maloney said this should not affect US policy at all.
“We need to watch closely and see how Iran evolves from here, and test where testing can benefit our interests,” she said. (end) rm.ibi