Sam Menassa

The Temporary Is Permanent… Disputes that Repel Resolutions

What outcomes are expected from the seventh round of the negotiations in Vienna aimed at reinstating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the nuclear degree, between Iran and the P5+1?

It is difficult to describe the atmosphere around the talks as encouraging, whether from the US or Iranian side, while most of the others taking part in the negotiations are sending positive messages. It would not be surprising if this round was followed by an eighth, ninth, tenth or maybe more, and for diplomacy to take its course and expand based on the positions adopted and the actions taken on the ground.

To start with, it could be easy to generally understand the United States' foreign directions, in contrast to those of Iran, which are more obscure and complicated. Washington's insistence and determination to reach an agreement with Iran that averts the spread of the nuclear contagion to other countries in the region, which will not hesitate to succeed Iran, are obvious. This is the priority of the US administration, any US administration.

At the same time, the United States is, at this stage, more preoccupied with its domestic issues, which have become more pressing, taking more of the administration's attention and time than they had before. Joe Biden's administration is giving particular attention to maintaining and renewing the country's infrastructure, allocating over one trillion dollars to this end, which is of critical importance domestically. Moreover, the administration has its eye on the midterm elections that will be held less than a year from now, while most party members are cautious regarding Iran and its policies, both its nuclear activity and its actions in the region. The third important factor shaping Washington's policy on this issue is that the president himself, as it seems, is not enthusiastic about an unconditional return to the agreement framed in accordance with Iran's agenda. His position differs from that of most of his team, which is enthusiastic about any framework that would ensure the agreement's resumption.

In this context, a dilemma perhaps worries President Biden and Washington's allies, especially those in the region, is their uncertainty that the agreement will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Giving an unequivocal answer to this question is impossible despite the capacities and efficiency of Western intelligence agencies.

That is on the US side, but regarding Tehran, understanding where it stands, as we mentioned before, is more complex. There are many hard-liners opposed to the agreement. Their statements could be part of the preparations for the negotiations, or they could actually reflect their positions and convictions. In addition, there are doubts about Iran's commitment to complying with the agreements it signs. Washington, as well as some of its allies in the West and in the region, who have to deal with Iranian negative non-nuclear behavior on a daily basis, believe that ideology plays a significant role in Tehran's decision-making and it could, without preventing the agreement from being concluded, lead to its circumvention, with some of its clauses breached and its spirit deviated from.

That shapes our reading of the expected impact on the region, whether the agreement is returned to or not, or if the middle ground solution making the rounds is reached. Most Iranian- US relations experts believe that some kind of settlement between Tehran and Washington will be reached, with or without the agreement. They base this projection on their conviction that half of the United States' concerns regard domestic matters, and a large part of the second half focuses on Russia, China and how to manage its relationship with them. That means there is little concern, very little, for the region, its affairs and tribulations. The US is only concerned with one thing, avoiding problems, containing conflicts, and distancing itself from getting involved in wars.

What precedes points to two things: the first is a reiteration of what we keep repeating; there is no specific strategy beyond preventing upheaval, limiting it or containing it, whatever the cost. If that is true, then a vacuum is the alternative, and this is what the region has been suffering from for more than a decade. We don't have to also reiterate what we have said about Moscow's weakness and inability to fill the void. That was apparent after its intervention in Syria and its disappointing outcomes. Meanwhile, it seems that China is currently neither equipped nor willing to put its energy into the region at this stage.

What we can conclude is that the current "status quo," which is built on an imbalance caused by the United States' absence and the force Iran has used in all directions, whether directly or through its allies and vassals, will persist.

Some reply saying that this scenario ignores Israel's influence on Washington's policy in the region, but everyone can see that Washington's habitual stance of unequivocally supporting Israel is not what it had been in the past.

This shift has pushed Tel Aviv to adopt a policy of direct retaliation in the event that it is attacked and to expand and enhance its relations in the region, especially its joint action with the neighboring countries that have normalized ties and those that are on track to normalize ties. As for the other Arab countries, either their force is scattered, or they are unable to use their strength as they should. Regarding Israel, the region's countries, especially those that have normalized ties with it, are fully aware of the direction US policy is taking and are reducing their reliance on the US to the greatest extent possible. Israel and Morocco's defense memorandum of understanding signed in Rabat last week is only the first of the many that the region will witness.

As for Turkey, which has scattered its forces in several regions and intervened in several conflicts, its economic and financial problems have become increasingly worrying to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his team, which could push them to reconsider their policies and devote more attention to domestic affairs.

In the end, the region is unlikely to see its problems end whether a nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran is reached or not. If only, as some hoping that the agreement is reinstated claim, that would open the eyes of the Western states keen on reaching it to Iran's destabilizing actions in the region and push the West in general, especially Western European states, to stop acting like aid organizations and associations.