Ana Palacio in Project Syndicate:
Rapprochement between Iran and the West has long been a “white whale” of global politics. But it increasingly appears that the world may be on the verge of a new era, characterized by a wary yet crucial collaboration between countries – particularly Iran and the United States – that had been irreconcilable since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The imperative for such cooperation drove last month’s Bergedorf Round Table, organized by the Körber Foundation in conjunction with the Institute for Political and International Studies. At the event, which I attended, 30 politicians, senior officials, and experts from Europe, the US, and Iran considered the relationship’s future, producing some important insights that should inform future policy decisions.
With countries across the Middle East crumbling and territorial sovereignty disintegrating – most notably in Iraq – this effort could not be timelier. To reverse the region’s slide into chaos, it needs strong stabilizing forces that can underpin coordinated action aimed at curtailing sectarian violence. Here, Iran has a key role to play.
Beyond its historical and cultural depth, which gives it a certain authority in the Middle East, Iran has one of the region’s few functioning governments capable of responding to geopolitical developments. This is to say nothing of its massive oil reserves, which secure its critical role in the complex global energy equation, particularly as it applies to Europe, which is working to reduce its dependence on Russian energy imports.
The problem is that Iran has consistently squandered its leadership potential, choosing instead to act as a spoiler, especially through the use of proxy armies. This disruptive tendency reinforces the need for collaboration, underpinned by strong incentives for Iran to maintain a constructive, moderate foreign policy.
To this end, the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the E3+3 (France, Germany, and the UK plus China, Russia, and the US) are an important first step. Iran’s nuclear ambitions have long posed a major security threat in the Middle East, as they raise the risk of preemptive military action by Israel or the US and, perhaps even more harrowing, of a regional arms race with the Gulf states and Turkey. Though fragmentation and sectarian violence have recently become a more urgent danger, the risks associated with Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power should not be underestimated.