By Ellen Laipson:
The likely achievement this year of a decade-plus containment of Iran’s nuclear activities has broad and largely positive implications for regional security, but it will take leadership, courage and imagination to realize them. For now, the loudest voices in the Arab world show that the nuclear negotiations were only one way of measuring the threat perception from Iran. Even if everyone agreed that the actual danger of a nuclear armed Iran has been dramatically reduced for many years to come, Iran still poses a profound threat because of its potential to set the regional agenda and successfully engage internationally in ways the turbulent and troubled Arab world cannot. But Arab leaders, particularly in the Gulf, could shift their mindset, show more confidence that, as a collective, they are a worthy peer of Iran, and begin to build a regional strategy for constructive engagement with Iran.
Such a strategy would not be built on any assumption that Iran has become more trustworthy, or that Iran’s commitment to challenging the regional status quo through Shia militia and other forms of mischief have been modulated by the success of the nuclear talks. Arabs will face the reality of an Iran that will likely be more confident and more successful in its economic relations with the world; can the region channel the gradual end of Iran’s isolation into additional incentives for good behavior? In the Gulf in particular, the emergence of a new generation of royal leaders and remarkable achievements in linking the region to the globalized economy could provide a basis for a more balanced and symmetrical dynamic between Iran and the Arab world. Of course, the culture wars will not end anytime soon, but there can be economic and political cooperation: Iranians proudly see their culture as superior to that of the Arab world’s while Sunni Arabs feel disdain for Shiism while in fact they harbor a sense of inferiority compared to the glories of Persian history and imperial identity.
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