While the Obama administration was negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and attempting to sell that deal to Congress and the American people, representatives with close ties to the Iranian government were meeting in the White House with administration officials. Newly revealed details show that, in 2015, the Iranian representatives “helped the White House craft its pro-Iran messaging and talking points that helped lead to the nuclear agreement with Iran.” Thus, Iran – a country which has consistently referred to the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and Israel as the “Little Satan” – helped mould the deal which allows it to continue its nuclear programs.
Some background about the geo-political situation in the Middle East might provide some helpful context here. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Arab states were generally opposed to both Israel and Iran. Israel and Turkey, U.S. allies themselves, joined together in order to balance the Arab states (most of whom were once part of the Ottoman Empire, the remnants of which became the modern state of Turkey after WWI). Iraq and Iran were the two major powers in the region and served to counter-balance each other, having fought a major war from 1980 to 1988 (the “Iran-Iraq War”).
The United States supported Iraq and Iran at various points in order to keep them in check; the Soviet Union and then Russia did much the same. During the Iran-Iraq war this got really confusing as both the U.S. and Soviet Union ostensibly supported Iraq, but both eventually supplied arms to Iran through various clients (the U.S. doing so as part of the infamous Iran-Contra Affair). A couple years after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. invaded Iraq to expel its forces from Kuwait during the Gulf War (1990-1991).
Thus, alliances in the Middle East have always been fluid. With the fall of Iraq due to the U.S. invasion in 2003, this major counterpoint to Iranian power was removed from the region. As a result, Iranian influence grew, causing the Arab states to further fear Iran and their nuclear ambitions. A way to restrict Iran and prevent it from achieving nuclear weapons was therefore considered important to the U.S. and its allies.
Into this environment, then, comes the nuclear deal. Worked out in early 2015 by the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, and Germany it ostensibly limits Iran’s nuclear enrichment and processing ability in exchange for the removal of sanctions. The stated goal is to allow Iran peaceful uses of nuclear energy, while prohibiting them from creating a nuclear weapon. However, there are flaws in the deal, and Iran itself has disputed some of the published aspects while making noise about continuing its nuclear weapons program. This has alarmed Israel and the Arab states, even causing some of them to think about beginning their own nuclear weapons programs (Israel likely already has them, but has a policy of neither confirming nor denying their existence).
The revelations today, then, of the Obama administration allowing those with close ties to the Iranian government helping it to craft and sell the Iranian deal to the American public are startling. The U.S. has in effect ignored the concerns of its traditional allies in the Middle East in order to come to an accommodation with a government which continues to call for the destruction of Israel and characterizes the U.S. and Britain as enemies.
Hopefully, the new administration will reconsider the Iranian deal and press American interests in the Middle East. It has been placed into a difficult position, however. Iran has already threatened to accelerate its nuclear programs if Trump scraps the deal. This would cause further instability in the region as well as set up a potential confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. In addition, the original deal had a 10 year sunset provision, so the problems of Iran’s nuclear weapons program have not actually been solved. Given this, one gets the sense that Obama simply wanted credit for getting a deal done with Iran, pushing the more problematic aspects concerning nuclear weapons into the future and onto the lap of his successor.