Daniel Kawczynski is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.
The situation across the Middle East is unrecognisable compared to before the start of the Arab uprisings in 2011, with the region now facing new and unprecedented problems. No assessment of the region is complete, however, without taking account of Iran, and specifically its nuclear ambitions. The ramifications of events emanating from Tehran, as well as the international community’s response, are being felt across the entire Middle East, and having direct implications on peace across the region. The deal struck in late November by the P5+1 negotiating team, therefore, was a highly significant development and is a welcome first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran’s nuclear programme.
In analysing the intricacies of the agreement, however, it is worth remembering that despite Iran’s belligerence, the country is a rational actor that responds to incentive. As the cumulative effects of sanctions imposed on the country continued to cause great harm to their economy, Iran sensed that continuously opposing the will of the international community (while having an ever-shrinking influence in the Arab World) would hand a victory to its adversaries. Alternatively, by agreeing to a settlement by which it can keep its nuclear enrichment to a certain level and its right to peaceful nuclear technology, Iran would rid itself of sanctions, improve its economy, ward off internal threats and finally permit it to refashion its hitherto waning role in the region.
However, for this option to be made available to Iran without the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the discussions meant Britain had abandoned the commitments made to its allies in the Middle East, especially the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries. Although the largest and most effective power in the Gulf, it would be understandable if, having been excluded from discussions, Saudi is now less inclined to follow the suggestions and counsel of the West. Reassurances were regularly offered throughout the negotiations that our Saudi friends were being kept informed at every turn, and were receiving an almost firsthand account of the deliberations. However, we have since learned from sources in Saudi that although it knew Iran were being engaged with, they were not being briefed directly by their allies.
In order that future steps in this process of securing a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear programme are as successful as possible, Saudi – or certainly the GCC as a regional organisation representing the interests of those concerned countries – needs to be intricately involved. Not one representative of the GCC was present for these talks, and yet many of these countries have been adversely affected by Iranian meddling in the region. Whether the subject is Iran’s involvement in Lebanon or Syria; its obvious attempts to stoke unrest in Bahrain or Yemen; its intimidation of the UAE over territorial disputes in the Gulf or the allegation that it has been involved in various assassination attempts against senior Saudi government officials, one point holds true: Iran is a country that has tried to bludgeon the region through the funding of terrorism and covert operations to destabilise other governments and increase their own influence. Statements made by the Saudi ambassador to UK, HRH Mohammed bin Nawaf, reflect these worries: he described the rush to engage with Iran as “incomprehensible”.
There is a precedent for such a move to include neighbouring countries in such negotiations. During the negotiations with North Korea on their nuclear programme, neighbouring countries were granted a seat at that table with the participant countries (comprising of China, the US, Russia, North and South Korea, and Japan).
In conclusion, the GCC is of paramount importance to the UK in relation to both trade and security. As the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Saudi Arabia for the last seven years, I have seen at first hand the invaluable benefit that the UK derives from a strong relationship with Saudi as well as with the other Member States of the GCC. For the UK to continue to enjoy these benefits, we must recognise the importance that Saudi Arabia has in the region, and seek to address the concerns that they’ve raised over this recent deal with Iran, as well as involving them in future discussions. This would not only strengthen future agreements, but would have the additional benefit of solving many conflicts affecting the stability of the region, including Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian crisis.