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What Iran's Regional Rivals Are Saying About The Deal


U.S. and Iranian officials are praising the nuclear agreement made in Vienna this morning. It's aimed, as we've said, at limiting Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani said his people had been praying for a deal and, quote, "their prayers have been answered." It's fair to say, though, that no one was praying for this deal in much of the Arab world. Iran is a regional rival to many Arab states. Many Arabs would call it a regional threat. We're joined now by NPR's Deborah Amos, who's been tracking the Arab world's response. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And what are you hearing so far?

AMOS: You know, it's not a surprise, it just became real. And in calls out to the region, it's clear there's going to be different reactions around the world. Oman, Kuwait, especially the UAE - these are Iran's closest neighbors. They will quietly accept the deal because they will get huge economic benefits when the sanctions are lifted. The Saudis are different. For them, the Iran deal deeply compromised their trust in Washington. And you can hear their commentators on satellites today. The kingdom doesn't find this deal acceptable because it's missing some crucial concerns for the Saudis, and that is regional security.

MONTAGNE: Is one of the Arab arguments - an argument by critics even in the United States - that this is somehow going to lead to an arms race because, of course, the point of the deal was not to lead - was to stop an arms race in the Middle East? But some see it as a way for Iran actually to get a - to get the nuclear weapons that the deal is supposedly preventing them from getting.

AMOS: I think the Saudis are looking at a different kind of weapon, and that is the parts of the agreement - and they're going to be poring over this - that looks of the arms embargo clause, and that's about missile parts, on engines. The Saudis are very keen to keep their military edge with the Air Force, so they're going to be looking at that part of the agreement.

MONTAGNE: Well, part of the U.S.'s efforts to appease - if you want to put it that way - to make sure that Saudi Arabia, in particular, is not upset has been to work out a deal with them on weapons.

AMOS: That's true, but this is such a bigger deal. Look at the Gulf. There's 40 million people in all these Gulf countries. There's 80 million in Iran. I talked to a prominent Saudi journalist and commentator, Jamal Khashoggi, this morning, and his reaction is striking. It's different because it's real. He says Iran is still behaving badly in the region. According to him, that's in Yemen, that's in Syria, that's in Iraq. He says that the Iranians are essentially building a new state in Syria - taking over the economics of the country, taking over the military. There is nothing in this agreement that addresses regional concerns. So there needs to be some parallel diplomatic track to take that into, you know, to sort of satisfy the Gulfies.

MONTAGNE: Right. Actually, as you say that, in Syria the members of the opposition - and I spoke to one yesterday - are actually really concerned because the idea is if Iran gets more money, if Iran - you know, if sanctions are lifted, it'll be freer to support Assad - the Assad regime.

AMOS: This is what they worry about. And the other thing that you see is a very sectarian reaction. As Jamal said, what you see on television is a Shiite Iraqi overjoyed, a Sunni Iraqi angry - both of them have Ph.D.s in economics.

MONTAGNE: Deborah, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Deborah Amos speaking to us about the Arab world's reaction to the nuclear deal between the U.S., five other powers and Iran that was announced this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.