Where did Obama go wrong with Iran?

Stripping Iran of its nuclear capabilities without starting a war is not a matter of objection

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The obvious protest in the region against the U.S. negotiations with Iran may have surprised the White House, which seeks to reach a historical agreement that ends the dispute with the Iranian regime.

American negotiators may find it strange why regional allies, like Gulf States and Israel, are quick to condemn the possible nuclear deal between major powers and Iran when the matter is still under discussion

The truth is that disarming Iran of its nuclear weapons without launching a war is not a matter of objection. On the contrary, we welcome that as long as it happens for a reasonable price. There was more fear of an expanded and destructive Iranian-international war that may erupt as a result of targeting the Iranian nuclear program as former president George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama had threatened.

This is why everyone has been involved for years in tightening economic sanctions against Iran. The aim of these sanctions was to push Iran to peacefully give up its nuclear military program.

After Hassan Rowhani was elected president, the Iranians voiced their desire to halt part of their nuclear program in exchange for lifting part of the sanctions and getting engaged in negotiations to reach some sort of solution. Obama's administration seized this signal and rushed to negotiate. It seems the problem is that the American administration was not transparent with regional allies. It did not provide them with all the information on the initial deal.

These countries later found out that there was more to the American proposal than they were informed about. Obama appeared give Iran big financial incentives and yet still allows it to enrich some uranium. This is why everyone became suspicious thinking that Obama's administration is in a rush to seal a deal at the expense of the region.

Deal scenarios?

The first scenario is that Iran may accept to be disarmed of its nuclear weapons and in exchange the United States would withdraw its force from Gulf waters and pledge not to engage in wars with Tehran in the Middle East as long as these wars are not directed towards the United States.

The second one is that the U.S. agrees to let Iran continue its military nuclear program in exchange for guarantees not to use it.

As we see, both options are very dangerous for the countries in the region. The first option will allow and encourage Iran to compensate its nuclear loss with committing more wars in the Middle East and thus turn the latter into a regional battlefield that's wider than what we see in Syria.

The Iranian regime thinks - and perhaps it's right - that the Obama administration will not intervene no matter what crimes it and its allies commit.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The second one will make Iran a country that possesses an invincible weapon. This will increase its feeling of superiority and its desire to avenge and expand. It will push regional countries to also seek nuclear weapons in order for deterrence. Therefore, there will be a nuclear arms race in a region full of madmen.

In response to this concern and during a closed-door meeting few days ago, I heard an American official affirm that the United States will not allow Iran to commit any act of aggression in the region. The problem is that we are currently confronting an unprecedented Iranian act of aggression.

The Iranian regime thinks - and perhaps it's right - that the Obama administration will not intervene no matter what crimes it and its allies commit. The regime has for the first time sent thousands of its troops to fight outside Iran - that is in Syria. Even Ahmadinejad, who was a very extremist president, did not do this as he settled with fighting through his proxies, like Hezbollah. Iran is violently fighting outside Iran under Rowhani's term because it thinks that the current American government will not stop it.

Obama is flirting with Iran and he hasn't done anything to reassure his allies and friends or at least deter the Iranian and Syrian regimes from committing terrifying crimes in Syria. He speaks of how he will not allow Iran to act om aggression while we witness his silence over the biggest tragedy in the region's history as more than 130,000 people have been killed, more than 6 million have been displaced and heavy weapons and jets continue to target cities and towns in Syria.

And now, his current government wonders why there's so much anger about this mysterious negotiations! Obama is negotiating with Iran to free its hand more in the region.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 21, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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