Is Washington Forgetting Its Allies in the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations?
As Secretary of State John Kerry rushed in 2013 to sign an interim nuclear deal with Iran, Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), incoming chair of the Senate Arms Services Committee, stated that Kerry “has been a human wrecking ball.” Regarding extension of current talks to July 2014, McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte ...
As Secretary of State John Kerry rushed in 2013 to sign an interim nuclear deal with Iran, Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), incoming chair of the Senate Arms Services Committee, stated that Kerry “has been a human wrecking ball.” Regarding extension of current talks to July 2014, McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said a “bad deal” with Iran would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
If Ashton Carter is confirmed as secretary of defense, he may temper Kerry’s overemphasis on nuclear diplomacy with little regard for regional implications; Carter would marry diplomacy with military elements in an overall strategy for Iran’s nuclear program.
Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen wrote in a post for the Washington Institute that as far back as April 2009, Saudis told U.S. Special Envoy Dennis Ross, “if [the Iranians] get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.” On Nov. 1, 2013, just prior to the Nov. 24 interim nuclear accord between Iran and the Permanent Five Members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1), the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), reported Riyadh’s concerns before Kerry’s visit two days later about a Tehran-Washington rapprochement: It increases Iran’s regional influence at the expense of the Arab States; a year later, Nov. 23, 2014, Saudi newspapers criticized Obama for cooperating with Iran while abandoning his Arab allies and called on Riyadh to conduct a strategic reassessment of the alliance with Washington.
Contrast how America’s Middle East allies are cut out of the nuclear talks with Iran versus nuclear talks with North Korea. Gulf states and Israel are excluded while European allies play a prominent role in the P5+1 negotiation with Tehran. In Asia, U.S. regional allies like Seoul and Tokyo are in a contact group with Beijing, Pyongyang, and Moscow. Although talks with Pyongyang have a mixed record, Arab States are absent from talks on Iran’s nuclear program and pay the price of a deal or no deal, whether good or bad. Although Kerry often travels to Jerusalem and Riyadh before talks with Iran, he does so at his discretion, and there is not formal consultation with regional allies before each secret bilateral or multilateral with Tehran.
Washington’s participation in nuclear talks with Iran while ignoring Iranian dissidents to curry favor with Tehran are intertwined stories of diplomatic appeasement of the Ayatollahs.
The Islamic Republic wields outsize influence in councils of power in Baghdad. According to the Washington Post, appointment of Iraq’s interior minister in October 2014 opened the door to Shiite militia and Iranian influence in Baghdad. Mohammed Ghabban, a Shiite politician with the Badr Organization has ties to Hadi al-Amiri, head of Badr and its military wing. He is likely to wield huge power in the ministry. The Badr militia ran Shiite death squads during Iraq’s sectarian war, after infiltrating the Interior Ministry. A leaked 2009 State Department cable said Amiri may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis. The Post also stated that head of Iraq’s human rights ministry is also affiliated with Badr.
Meanwhile, Iranian dissidents are not well represented by the American Embassy in Baghdad during the past three years, while nuclear talks have been taking place. Memorializing an accord with Baghdad, on Dec. 25, 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, under pressure from pro-Iran Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, urged some 3,000 Iranian dissidents to abandon their home in Camp Ashraf, where they had lived for decades, in favor of Camp Liberty. In that statement, Secretary Clinton promised “officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad will visit regularly and frequently.” This pledge was never fulfilled, except for a few short visits to the camp without discussing security concerns of the dissidents. Trying to please Tehran with unfilled efforts by U.S. Embassy staff is a macabre example of the adage, “Promises are made to be broken and lies are meant to be kept.”
Consider three steps as a way forward.
First, create a de facto consultative group of regional allies, such as Israel and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman, based in Riyadh, with European allies, including EU, France, Germany, and Britain. Washington would consult with them as a group or separately before each P5+1 meeting with Iran. The GCC Summit of December 9 and 10 might welcome such private consultations regarding the unresolved issue of possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear activities and need for robust inspections.
Second, just as regional allies lack a seat at the table in nuclear talks and exercise influence via Washington, Iranian dissidents do not have a seat at the table in Bagdad. The missing piece, however, is that U.S. Embassy Baghdad does not fulfill its proxy role for the dissidents. The Embassy needs to fulfill the pledge of Clinton to use its clout for Liberty’s residents and be more proactive in facilitating their resettlement to friendly destinations. On Oct. 22, 2014, a McCain letter to Kerry stated, “transfer to Iran could amount to a death sentence for these committed opponents of the tyrannical regime in Tehran, which has repeatedly attacked and murdered them inside of Iraq.”
It is a mistake to enhance Iran’s leverage in nuclear talks in Vienna at the expense of regional allies and Iranian dissidents. A strategic policy would take into account their wishes for Washington to marry such diplomacy with military elements and gain leverage over Tehran by opening a dialogue with its dissidents.