Why It Matters

Iran-US ties set for sea change

Iranians celebrate on the streets following a nuclear deal with major powers, in Tehran on July 14, 2015. PHOTO: REUTER
Iranians celebrate on the streets following a nuclear deal with major powers, in Tehran on July 14, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERPHOTO: REUTERS

Depending on whom you ask, the Iran nuclear deal is either an important breakthrough that removes a key threat in the Middle East or a historic mistake that will plunge the region into a nuclear arms race.

Since the deal between six world powers and Iran was announced last week, opinion has been sharply divided over whether or not the deal would actually keep Iran away from developing a nuclear bomb.

Proponents hail the unprecedented verification and inspections regime that will be imposed while critics worry that Iran will be strengthened by sanctions relief without having to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure.

Yet, the significance of the agreement lies beyond its impact on Teheran's nuclear ambitions.

If the deal was in fact negotiated in good faith, and neither the US Congress nor Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei throws a last-minute spanner in the works, then it marks a significant evolution in some key global relationships.

First, it changes the tenor of how Iran relates to the world. While no one would dare suggest that the agreement means sweeping reform in Teheran, the fact that the regime is prepared to participate in months and months of talks with adversaries is not to be sniffed at either.

These are not the actions of a reclusive state. However small, the deal is a boost to reformers in the regime and a blow to hardliners.

On the part of the United States, the deal is the culmination of the Obama anti-war policy in the Middle East. It is a recognition that the US cannot simply get its way through sheer economic or military force.

If the deal holds, it may well be the starting point for a more functional relationship between the United States and Iran.

As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani himself put it on the day the deal was announced: "With this unnecessary crisis resolved, new horizons emerge with a focus on shared challenges."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Iran-US ties set for sea change'. Print Edition | Subscribe