A booster for Middle-East peace

A booster for Middle-East peace
Iranians look at newspapers displayed outside a kiosk on November 24, 2013 in the capital Tehran a day after a deal was reached on the country's nuclear programme. President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers signalled an acceptance of uranium enrichment in Iran and that punitive sanctions were starting to crumble.

SINGAPORE- If all goes well, the preliminary agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia - plus Germany, would ensure the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme and ultimately reintegrate it into the international community.

In doing so, it would not only remove the threat of a debilitating war with Iran and prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and North Africa but also return the Islamic republic to the centre stage of the region's geopolitics.

It would force regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia to focus on their most immediate issues rather than use Iran as a distraction, while offering the US the opportunity to revert to its stated policy of pivoting from Europe and the Middle East to Asia.

Not a cure-all

To be sure, a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue is not a panacea for the vast array of social, political, economic, ethnic, national and sectarian problems in the Middle East and North Africa. Political and social unrest, boiling popular discontent with discredited regimes and identity politics are likely to dominate developments in the region for years to come.

Nonetheless, Iran's return to the international community is likely to provide the incentive for it to constructively contribute to ending the bitter civil war in Syria, breaking the stalemate in fragile Lebanon where the Shi'ite militia Hizbollah plays a dominant role, and furthering efforts to achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. That would also take some of the sting out of the region's dangerous slide into sectarian Sunni-Shi'ite conflict.

All of that would reduce the number of fires in the Middle East and North Africa that the Obama administration has been seeking to control and that have prevented it from following through on its intended re-focus on Asia.

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