As the United States withdraws its forces from Iraq, there will be competition for regional influence by states in the eastern Middle East, including Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Gulf countries. A formal framework for communication and cooperation—similar to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe—could reduce the risks of conflict and encourage stability and economic development in this tense but critical location, according to a paper by Paul Salem. 

Key Conclusions:

  • There is already considerable interaction among Turkey, Iran, and a number of Arab countries, but if these relations are not organized along clear security and political parameters, misunderstanding can easily lead to increased tensions.
  • Regional concerns over Iran’s nuclear program will make progress on developing a framework difficult. 
  • It is in Washington’s interest to support a cooperative framework in the eastern Middle East. Reducing tensions in the neighborhood could encourage Tehran in the long run to pursue more moderate and less paranoid policies.
  • Other outside powers—most notably Europe, Russia, China, and India—should have an even stronger interest in progress toward sub-regional cooperation and stability. They oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and any armed conflict in the region would interrupt energy flow.

“There are escalating tensions in the eastern Middle East today, but this is precisely why the region’s leaders should increase their communication and interaction,” writes Salem. “Even in the context of unresolved threats, working toward such a framework is possible and necessary. The Helsinki Process and the OSCE were launched during the Cold War to build trust and cooperation in the context of mistrust and mutually perceived threats.”