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The United States and Iran: What's Next?

The recent nuclear deal delays Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but in 15 years, all nuclear limitations on the country will expire. What should the United States do to achieve a safer and more stable future with Iran? Danger exists but so does opportunity. The nuclear deal is a cautious, initial step toward a more cooperative relationship with Iran. The question to ask now, is ‘what’s next?’ The answer: Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the best location for reconstructing Iranian-American relations because both states have a significant interest in its overall stability. While the United States and Iran have conflicting interests in other Middle Eastern countries (notably Iraq and Syria) they have many non-conflicting and even complementary goals in Afghanistan. Cooperative projects could focus on any number of key areas: rebuilding infrastructure such as roads, railroads, electrical grids, energy; combating Afghanistan’s role in growing, manufacturing and trafficking opiates; tackling corruption; improving access to and delivery of education; and stimulating the Afghan economy. Regardless of which efforts the two countries jointly confront, the United States will have an opportunity to simultaneously improve relations with leaders in Tehran.

Following an alternative path that isolates Iran on the heels of the nuclear deal will only increase resentment towards the United States. The recent victory of more moderate candidates in the national parliamentary elections show that Iranian public opinion may slowly be shifting away from extreme candidates and party platforms. The United States should capitalize on the reformist momentum in the country, taking action while moderates under President Rouhani maintain power.

Indeed, positive results from U.S.-Iranian projects in Afghanistan could ultimately strengthen President Rouhani ahead of next year’s presidential election. In the past decade, Afghanistan’s instability has sent poorrefugees fleeing to Iran, overcrowding already congested cities and depleting already scarce resources. In 2011, Iran devoted over $160 million just to the education of refugees, and additional state funds have been reallocated to meet the other needs of refugees. If the Rouhani regime creates positive changes in Afghanistan that decrease the flows of refugees into Iran’s urban areas, it stands to free up state funds for investment elsewhere, and to gain popularity with the public. Keeping Rouhani’s moderate coalition in power would benefit the United States, as the President has proven to be more open to constructive relations with western nations than his predecessor.

Collaboration on programming in Afghanistan would not only strengthen Iran’s moderates, it would also feed into other short and medium benefits for both countries. For instance, the Rouhani regime is currently struggling to cope with a growing water crisis caused in part by Afghanistan’s damming of key waterways into Iran. President Rouhani would be in a better position to resolve its ongoing water crisis if it were on better terms with Afghanistan. For the United States, U.S.-Iranian cooperation in Afghanistan would lay the groundwork for a U.S. withdrawal from the state. Both the American public and Iran would welcome this shift.

For the United States, the goal is to end the longest war in its history, which is playing out in Afghanistan. Both Iran and the United States, however, fear an unstable Afghanistan, especially when considering how the chaos of the 1990’s led to the founding and rapid growth of the Taliban. Both states also want to see the demise of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which have threatened U.S. and Iranian security over the last few decades.

Further, the refugee crisis emanating from Afghanistan not only affectsIran, but also the international donor community, including the United States and some of America’s key European allies. Improving governance, development and public service delivery through joint U.S.-Iranian initiatives will assist in bringing stability to the county and help to ensure that Afghanistan’s people do not have to turn to the Taliban or drug traffickers for access to justice or their livelihoods in the future.

One of the most critical outcomes of joint U.S.-Iranian programming in Afghanistan will materialize in the long-term. Collaboration on small and mutually beneficial projects in a country of interest to both parties will contribute to normalization of cooperative relations between the United States and Iran over time. A change in bilateral relations will not occur overnight, but establishing positive working relationships through taking small steps now will set the stage for further collaboration in the future.

Ultimately, the nuclear deal ensures Iran will remain relevant to future U.S. policy makers. While end of the nuclear deal may seem distant, it will be far easier to address fears and uncertainties about Iran’s next steps if the United States starts to normalize relationships now. Cooperation in Afghanistan could further ease tension between the United States and Iran, and even, over time, increase the prospect for Iranian cooperation in Syria, Iraq, or on the Iranian nuclear program. The United States needs every partner it can find to establish stability in the Middle East. Iran still poses a danger to stability, but cooperation rather than isolation will lead to long-term peace.

original source: http://www.iar-gwu.org/content/united-states-and-iran-what%E2%80%99s-next

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