The engagement between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear program is now paralleled with the efforts to overwhelm terrorism and extremism in the region that is now embodied mainly in a group who calls itself Islamic State (IS).
Any potential deadlock in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1(United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany) seems now to be more related to the lack of confidence between the two sides rather than concern for the nuclear proliferation. In such circumstance, a cooperation based on a coordinated policy in the fight against IS could substantially enhance the required confidence, which is critical in reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
As things stand now on the nuclear negotiations, the prospects for reaching a final deal in November is not much promising. Statements by both sides do not spur much optimism. This is much the reflection of what is perceived from the talks and insistence of the US’ Congress to retain main parts of the sanctions against Iran.
Observed from the Iranian side, the West would be contended with the present state of affairs that means practically freezing Iran's nuclear activities, having constant inspection over its nuclear installations while maintaining the bulk of the sanctions. Obviously, this is not acceptable to Iran who wants the nuclear file to be closed for ever while demonstrating its willingness to clarifying all issues related to its nuclear program. Iran demands that the other side of the negotiations keep up with its promises and remove the sanctions, which is hindering its economic activities in the international marketplace.
Meanwhile, the ominous developments in the region with the rapid rise of a terrorist group that claims to be the Islamic Caliphate has raised alarm not only in the region and beyond but among those who were directly or indirectly supporting this terrorist entity since its birth. The challenge of IS to international security is so critical that the issue has been raised at the United Nations Security Council.
Although there is wide consensus in the international community on the need to confront this common threat, the efforts have not been fully successful till now. The IS has expanded its domain over north eastern part of Syria and almost one third of Iraq. The task ahead seems to be formidable since the U.S. and other Western countries, whose hands have been once burned in Iraq, are not in a mood to bring back their soldiers to fight IS or any other terrorist groups.
Their contribution to the campaign against IS, as they have declared would be at most in the form of limited cooperation, intelligence and some aerial support. Obviously, that would not suffice to quell the fierce and brutal forces of IS. Overall, there seems to be a lack of decisiveness that is critical in confronting the IS among some policymakers in the United States. A flip flop policy that isa one day considering intervention and use of force against IS and another day stepping back with hesitation taking the campaign against IS nowhere.
Timely action is needed. As Carl von Clausewitz says, "It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past." Washington's hesitation to call for Iran's help in confronting this common threat is another mistake. Iran was the first to identify the Salafi/Wahabi forces in the region as the main threat to peace in the region. Iran has both the incentives and reliable means to fight against these terrorist groups. Ideologically, the Salafis' call themselves mortal enemies of the Shiites'. The savagery that IS has demonstrated against the Shiites' is loathsome and unprecedented in contemporary human history.
Meanwhile, Iran is in a unique position to fight IS. Its experience of eight years of war with the Baathist regime during the reign of Sadaam Hussein in Iraq and experience of fighting against similar insurgent groups, as well its web of friends in Iraq and Syria would help it to project power in an efficient manner against IS.
Perhaps it was with those considerations that both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron hinted at working with Iran in the fight against IS. As records show there are some precedents of working relations between Iran and the U.S. in the past especially in the fight against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 and some errand cases in Iraq after the fall of Sadaam. However, these co operations were all on an ad hoc basis and lacked the trajectory to overwhelm persistent hostilities between them.
Shared concerns about the rise of IS and to campaign against it once again provides an opportunity for the West and especially the United States to reach out and seek Iran's valuable assistance. The environment that Washington and Tehran would engage in the region to fight against terrorism could also serve as a conduit for building confidence and to evade a potential deadlock in the nuclear negotiations.
* Former Iranian diplomat and scholar in the field of foreign policy, international security and disarmament.
Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, "Fight Against Islamic State Group: An Opportunity for Iran-West Cooperation," The Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies ,August 27, 2014.
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