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Analysts: Iran Deal Offers Chance to Rehabilitate Foreign Relations

  • Henry Ridgwell

The tentative framework on Iran's nuclear program agreed to this month is in renewed doubt over when Western sanctions should be lifted. But many analysts say the progress made offers an opportunity for both Tehran and the West to tackle other burning issues in the region, such as the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

To a round of applause and a rendition of the national anthem, President Hassan Rouhani unveiled a nuclear fuel assembly in parliament Thursday to mark Iran’s "Nuclear Technology Day."

Iran’s Supreme Leader said this week there was no guarantee a final deal on the country’s nuclear program would be reached by the June deadline. But the Ayatollah is striking a delicate balance, says Peter Jenkins, former UK ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“There’s a contrast between what’s for public consumption and what he’s saying privately to Rouhani,” he said.

Towards a deeper involvement?

The tentative framework agreed to in Switzerland earlier this month on Iran’s nuclear program provides a springboard for deeper engagement, says Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat and head of the Organization for Economic Reconstruction and National Reconciliation in Iran.

“Whatever has been agreed to in Lausanne can provide a framework and a catalyst for Iran to try to address these issues, to move in the direction of confidence-building, in order to try to enhance its own position,” he said.

Some analysts say such optimism over Iran’s intentions is dangerously misplaced — among them Davis Lewin of policy group The Henry Jackson Society.

“It is a vicious regime that is very good at tactically exploiting a situation, creating those kinds of alliances, relationships and dynamics in the region that have allowed it to expand its nefarious influence significantly. And we must not be fooled into thinking that peace is about to break out,” he said.

Yemen conflict

The civil conflict in Yemen is escalating as Houthi rebels advance into the southern city of Aden. Washington has accused Iran of providing support for the Houthis. But the nuclear deal does provide an opportunity for détente, says Peter Jenkins.

“There is a chance that the United States and Iran can have a fruitful dialogue and Iran can perhaps offer to exercise whatever influence it has with the Houthis in favor of bringing hostilities to an end,” he said.

Tehran has described Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes against the Houthis as "genocide." Iran has legitimate interests in the region, says Mehrdad Khonsari.

“There are limits to what Iran can do or has done, in comparison to let’s say what Saudi Arabia has been doing and is doing. But they can talk, they can have dialogue,” said Khonsari.

Iran supports Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad — accused of war crimes against his own people. But the emergence of terrorist groups like Islamic State has created a common enemy - and common ground - for Iran and its rivals, says Khonsari.

“Addressing their competitors can take a different shape. And I think that is the direction in which the Rouhani government can proceed. Not that Iran should abandon its policy in Syria,” he said.

Analysts say the window of opportunity for wider dialogue may be short-lived if Iran and the West fail to agree on a full nuclear deal in coming weeks.

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