Western Officials Cast Doubt on Optimism about Iran-US Relations

 On Friday, Al Monitor gave evidence of this situation when it reported upon its interviews with Iranians about the news of re-opening diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba. Many respondents were aware of the news and were eager to express personal opinions about how that situation related to the situation of diplomatic relations between Iran and the US.

Most of the responses printed by Al Monitor express considerable optimism that it would convince one side or the other that rapprochement is possible and that isolation cannot and must not last forever. Others, however, responded differently, either hoping that the Cuba situation would reinforce Iranian defiance or opining that the two sets of relations are too different from one another to be seriously compared.

Al Monitor acknowledges that the issues between Iran and the US and far different from issues between Cuba and the US. Indeed, the persistence of those issues and the latest Western reaction to them may undercut much of the optimism that currently exists about future rapprochement with Iran along similar lines to that already seen with Cuba.

The Tower pointed out on Sunday that Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Corker had both explained that legislation seeking congressional oversight over the Iran nuclear deal would probably be a high priority in the new year’s session of the now Republican-majority Congress. The Tower also pointed out that pending legislation seeks to impose new sanctions on Iran in the event that the nuclear talks fail, and that incoming congressmen are reportedly optimistic that that legislation can be passed with a veto-proof majority.

This would likely signal a shift from the softer policies of President Obama which had dominated the negotiation process and been roundly criticized by Iran hawks. The more hardline policy may come more in line with the position taken by France, often described as the least conciliatory member of the P5+1.

Indeed, AFP reported on Monday that French President Francois Hollande had gone on France Inter Radio to reaffirm his country’s commitment to a demonstrably non-nuclear Iran. “If there is no clear statement from Iran on giving up nuclear weapons, there will be no agreement,” Hollande said. “France will not yield on that point. It will remain absolutely firm.”

Of course, the vast majority of Western policymaking has remained focused on the nuclear issue, but there remain other reasons why France and the US Congress may wish to take a hard line with the Islamic Republic – reasons which set Iran apart from US rapprochement with Cuba. Among these are Iran’s interventions into neighboring Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq.

This latter issue was emphasized in a CNN editorial on Monday by NYU journalism professor Mohammad Bazzi. The author expressed agreement with the perception that Iran will take serious action against the Islamic State, which the US is also fighting in Iraq, but he went on to dispel the notion that this makes Iran a good partner in that fight.

Bazzi outlined the long history of Iranian influence in Iraq, which led various competing elements to be dependent on Iran’s support and financing, thus giving the regime multiple footholds and also helping to fuel the Iraqi insurgency and civil war. That civil war, Bazzi points out, is part and parcel of a series of proxy wars to which Iran in a party, making continued Iranian influence a dangerous prospect for stability in the region.

Bazzi concludes by rejecting optimism about, and advocacy for, broad rapprochement with the Iranian regime over issues like the Islamic State. “Washington has been looking the other way as Iran increased its military involvement over the past six months,” he writes. “Without committing far more U.S. troops and resources, there is little that the Obama administration can do to contain Iranian power in Iraq.”