Thawing Negotiations with Iran

Iran and the P5+1 have reached a historic deal that limits Iran’s nuclear ambitions. After months of debate and compromising on both sides, what does this mean for transatlantic security and the future of Iranian-Western relations?

President Barack Obama has made his desire to finish these negotiations very clear, and he has threatened to veto any future attempts to derail the agreement by Congress. What is less clear, however, is how the Germans feel about this agreement. Germany was involved in these talks, and as a Western power, has an interest in limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Germany itself is not a proponent of nuclear power of any sort, electing to phase out nuclear power completely by the end of 2022.

Still, there is more at stake here for the Germans. The European-Iranian trade bank (EIH) is one of a very few operating financial organizations acting between the two regions, despite being sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury. Additionally, Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, recently made a trip to meet former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in order to secure the release of two German media personnel. As tensions between Iran and the West continue to defrost, what dynamic will prevail?

Two-thirds of Iran’s population was born after the revolution, and though anti-Western sentiments are espoused by the elite, very few among the younger generations echo these sentiments. This trend, along with a need for a strong, stable ally in an incredibly turbulent region, will likely cause Western powers to seek out more cooperation with Iran in the future. Threats like ISIS have led to the creation of unlikely bedfellows––united in a desire to staunch the flow of extremism into the surrounding area or areas beyond, like Europe and the West. As a Shiite nation, Iran stands diametrically opposed to such Sunni groups. With the United States and its allies unwilling and unlikely to get involved in direct military action in the near future, Iran stands as an ally in this fight––one with which the West would do well to communicate.

Recent shifts in opinion toward Israel by President Obama and the German government (as evidenced by the outright condemnation of new Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory), have made these two Western nations only more appealing in Iran’s eyes. Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strong opposition to the new nuclear deal is unlikely to make American-Israeli or German-Israeli relations any rosier, and it’s likely the opposite will be the case.

Is the West now pivoting away from traditional Sunni allies in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, and toward a new set of partnerships? Perhaps. Time will tell whether this directional change will be necessary or prudent in the fight against extremism or in the realm of nuclear nonproliferation. Nevertheless, this deal is a historic one; it will leave a huge, unsettling impact on the foreign policy and traditional relationships of all involved.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.