In Washington DC, panelists at the Middle East Institute’s annual conference clashed on the topic of a US-Iran rapprochement. Dr. Mohsen Milani of the University of South Florida remarked that a US-Iran rapprochement would more profoundly influence the Middle East in the future than either the Syrian conflict or sectarianism, but Dr. F. Gregory Gause of the Brookings Doha Center countered that Milani and others were “getting ahead of themselves.”
Dr. Gause affirmed that the US is “not about to sanction Iranian involvement in the Gulf, which is what GCC countries are afraid of,” implying that the recent noise about Tehran-Washington communications and the public exasperation of American allies like Saudi Arabia are, to a certain extent, sensationalism and political posturing.
Following Dr. Gause’s critique, Dr. Milani qualified his earlier statement that any US-Iran rapprochement would not be a “normalization” of relations between the two countries. Other panelists concurred that the “enmity between the US and Iran is about much more than the nuclear program” and that “33 years of mutual animosity” would not be resolved overnight.
Yet some were still relatively optimistic about the rapprochement. Although everyone agreed normalization was out of the question, Dr. Milani suggested that a “management of conflict” could emerge.
The “management of conflict” option will only become more and more likely as more and more experts agree that Iranian cooperation is needed to help resolve the Syrian civil war and that President Hassan Rouhani wants to reach an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions.