The administration has made extensive efforts to keep the nuclear issue and other regional issues separate, but their interconnectedness is becoming increasingly apparent in light of the ongoing expansion of Iranian influence, and the proportionate response of Iran’s regional adversaries. This week Iran dispatched a naval destroyer to the coast of Yemen, expanding upon its financial and logistical backing of the Houthi rebels that have overtaken the country and prompted a marked increase in sectarian violence there.
Even in light of this expansion of its activities abroad, Iranian officials still claim to not be involved, and this seems to have prompted a more pointed response from the Obama administration than has been typical in light of nuclear negotiations and regional crises in which the US and Iran share a common enemy in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
According to The Age, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described air strikes by a coalition of Iran’s Arab adversaries in Yemen as “genocide,” and once again dismissed claims of Iranian meddling there. But the US State Department has traced flights going from Iran to Yemen every week and is supporting and supplying the Arab coalition in order to counterbalance the growth of Iranian power.
Fox News reported on Thursday that US Secretary of State John Kerry had declared that it is obvious that Tehran is supplying the Houthi and that “Iran needs to recognize that the United States is not going to stand by while the region is destabilized or while people engage in overt warfare across lines — international boundaries — in other countries.”
Presumably in response to the growing US backing of the opposite side of the Yemeni conflict, Iran is now seeking additional regional support for the efforts on its side, according to Al Jazeera. On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called upon Pakistan, Turkey, and Oman to back plans for a cease-fire according to Tehran’s terms.
Last week’s framework nuclear agreement may boost Iran’s chances of getting political backing on issues such as these, as the promise of an end to economic sanctions gives some regional nations additional incentive to work to preserve and expand economic relations with Tehran. If acted upon, these incentives have the potential to not only support Iran’s political activities, but to further boost its enrichment after the removal of sanctions, providing it with wealth that could be channeled into more of the same regional activities.
The promise of sanctions relief is expected to be a source of an influx of foreign investment, especially from allies of Iran that have been wary of falling afoul of US-led sanctions. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal gave a partial indication of the potential economic boosts that Iran may be looking forward to when it reported on China’s offer to finance part of the construction of a long-planned and long-delayed pipeline between Iran and Pakistan.
The sanctions-related delays have been a source of some conflict between Iran and Pakistan, and this possible financing may alleviate that conflict and make Pakistan more likely to be a partner to Iran in the future. But this is not a foregone conclusion for Pakistan, Turkey, or Oman, all of which have uncertain relations with Iran, strained by different ideologies, policies, alliances, and sectarian makeups.
In the case of Pakistan, relations between the two neighboring countries have been repeatedly complicated by disputes over each government’s responsibility for the security situation along their shared border. On Thursday, Rudaw reported that eight Iranian border guards had been killed in a new attack that illustrates the fact that these problems will not be diminished by a resolution of the nuclear issue and may actually distract some Iranian resources from Yemen and other projects of regional expansion.