Middle East allies nervous about US-Iran nuclear talks

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Kerry EU Iran
US Secretary of State John Kerry walks with European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton after arriving at EU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on November 8, 2013, for meetings focused on Iran’s nuclear capability.

US relations with Iran have grown more positive over the past few months, especially after the historic phone call between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Not since 1979 had the leaders of the US and Iran spoken! However, Middle East allies of the US – like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – view Iran’s motives for recent friendliness with suspicion.

For years, the US has organized harsh economic sanctions (money restrictions) that have cost Iran quite dearly. See, Iran has continued developing nuclear technology, which they claim is only for peaceful energy purposes, but the US and its allies fear the creation of nuclear weapons. Also, Iran has resisted letting in United Nations inspectors to take a close look at their nuclear program. All of this drama, however, is starting to change.

Iranian negotiators met in Geneva, Switzerland this past weekend with the P5+1 group, which is made up of the 5 permanent UN Security Council members (US, Russia, China, UK, and France), plus Germany. Although no deal was reached, Iran has agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to enter nuclear sites that have not been seen in a very long time.

While critics believe the Geneva talks were a failure, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague explained, “Our aim is to produce an interim first step agreement with Iran that can then create the confidence and space to negotiate a comprehensive and final settlement.” In other words, it’s not all going to happen overnight, especially after more than a decade of unfriendly relations. Talks will resume again on November 20.

However, a much more delicate matter has begun to affect the process, as allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel fear what will happen if their rival, Iran, is given any wiggle room. France is also being publicly critical about the deal, although some suspect this is to impress the Saudis, with whom they have many business contracts. Likewise, the UAE is very concerned, and US Secretary of State John F. Kerry recently met with their top officials.

At a news conference following the UAE meeting, Kerry explained, “Having the negotiation does not mean giving up anything. It means you will put to the test what is possible and what is needed, and whether or not Iran is prepared to do what is necessary to prove that its program can only be a peaceful program.” He also pointed out that the talks with Iran did not fail because of France, but because Iranians rejected an offer. “The French signed off on it; we signed off on it. There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.” Images courtesy of US Department of State on Flickr.