Iran and Saudi Arabia don’t see eye to eye on many issues, but analysts of both countries agreed Tuesday on one thing: The nuclear deal has not cleared up enormous uncertainty about the future of the region or ended the threat of military clashes.
Concerns between the regional rivals over political implications of the nuclear agreement spilled over into a discussion at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington amid doubts that the deal by itself will ease regional tensions.
“I think the deal alone is not going to make the situation better, but actually make the region more combustible because of this tremendous amount of uncertainty that could inject into the region,” said Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “Both Iranian conservatives and other actors in the region feel that, because of this deal, they’re going to lose.”
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, disagreed frequently with Mr. Tabaar but also warned of a potential conflict.
“This deal will break out into small wars into our region,” Mr. Khashoggi said. “It is a nonproliferation deal. It’s not a ‘Let’s change Iran’ deal. The Iranians have showed no commitment to change their behavior in the region.”
The nuclear deal, signed July 14 in Vienna by the U.S. and its five international partners with Iran, has triggered a vigorous international debate over its potential impact on regional relations, particularly between Shiite Iran and Sunni Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia. Despite fierce criticism in Congress and in Israel that the deal strongly favors Tehran, Mr. Tabaar said not all Iranians are cheering.
“I think the most dangerous misunderstanding here is this assumption that Iran has been the winner in this whole thing,” he said. “The Iranian conservatives are as worried about this deal and the post-deal environment as much as the Arab countries. They are expecting a major confrontation in the region.”
Under the agreement, Iran pledged to curb its nuclear program for a decade in exchange for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars worth of relief from international sanctions. Many penalties on the Iranian economy, such as those related to the energy and financial sectors, could be lifted by the end of the year but could be reimposed if Iran is caught breaking its promises.
Like Congress, Iran’s parliament has 60 days to review and accept the proposed agreement, but it may face pressure from the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has long been a skeptic about U.S. commitment to the deal.
The ayatollah has increased his anti-American rhetoric in the wake of the agreement, insisting that Iran’s “policy toward the arrogant U.S. government” wouldn’t change.
Analysts say the supreme leader’s words could incite conservatives in Iran’s parliament to vote against the deal, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is declaring victory.
“The deal is a legal, technical and political victory for Iran,” Mr. Rouhani said shortly after the agreement was announced. “It’s a historic deal, and Iranians will be proud of it for generations to come.”