US and Iran could become strategic allies – with India's help
Tighter sanctions and military threats haven't swayed Iran over its nuclear program. What the West really needs is genuine rapprochement – the kind that India is especially suited to facilitate.
The standoff with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program continues. While Washington is arming its Gulf Arab allies in a process of ‘strategic containment,’ hardliners are seeking tighter sanctions and even military options to coerce Iran into compliance.Skip to next paragraph
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But these options remain untenable. The "Gulf Security Dialogue" simply postpones the inevitable, neglecting Iran’s unconventional strengths. Sanctions antagonize Tehran, while Russia, Turkmenistan, China, and even smugglers fill the void in Iran’s energy sector. Military strikes and sabotage may set-back but not end Iran’s nuclear program, and provoke Iran to take countermeasures like mining the Strait of Hormuz – not to mention the political backlash. Regime change by support for anti-Tehran militant groups only aggravates Iran, while Iran's democracy movements are calling for civil rights, not government overthrow. And with America trapped in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tehran could easily play spoiler.
There is a better option: a genuine rapprochement.
As the US withdraws from Iraq, stability there and in the Levant is contingent on Iranian cooperation. In Afghanistan, more than 70 percent and 40 percent of NATO’s supplies and fuel, respectively, pass through northern Pakistan. This is the only transport link between the Arabian Sea and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan, keeping the West beholden to Islamabad’s every whim and its supplies subject to attack within Pakistan.
A transport link through Iran would reduce this vulnerability, while easing Islamabad’s own security burden. Coordination with Iran would help bring the Afghan warlords in Tehran’s sphere of influence into the political process, and open up a stable trade route to Central Asia.
A US-Iran understanding would also distance Iran from China, countering the Chinese “string of pearls” strategy in South and Central Asia – a greater imperative in light of China’s recently inaugurated Turkmenistan-China pipeline and talk of an Iran-Pakistan-China energy link.
Even Iran would benefit from a US détente. With three million opium users, Iran is the greatest victim of the Afghan opium trade, while the Taliban that threatens the West is similarly anathema to Iran. By partnering with US forces, Iran can direct its influence toward shared strategic aims: countering narcotics trafficking, intelligence cooperation, and stabilizing Afghanistan. The Iranians would also be assured that America would not use Iraq or the Gulf to attack them.
Iran’s geography, petro-power, and Islamist credentials inevitably empower Tehran. America would only benefit if this influence aligned with its own interests. Engaging Iran also opens up its 77-million-strong population to foreign trade and contact after decades of sanctions, strengthening civil society. A lack of engagement, however, leaves the field open for competitors like China to fill the gap.