Saving Face and Peace in the Gulf

PRINCETON – The West and Iran are playing a dangerous game. In the past ten days, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz and warned the United States against sending an aircraft carrier back into the Persian Gulf. The US predictably responded that its aircraft carriers could and would patrol wherever necessary to promote freedom of navigation. Iran then announced that it would conduct naval exercises in the Strait.

In the game of “chicken,” two cars drive straight at each other at top speed; either one driver “chickens out” and swerves, or they collide in a fireball. Governments around the world cannot stand by and watch that game play out across the world’s energy lifeline. It is time for third parties to step in and facilitate solutions that allow Iran to save face while significantly and credibly reducing its supply of enriched uranium.

Iran may or may not be planning to go all the way to production of a nuclear weapon. Nonetheless, it is in clear violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as determined by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with monitoring the treaty. Its continuing non-compliance is destabilizing the entire Middle East, with serious repercussions for global security.

Although the Iranian government could most likely be deterred from using a nuclear weapon, the price of a nuclear Iran could well be a regional arms race – a nuclear Saudi Arabia, possibly followed by Turkey and Egypt. Nuclear weapons, components, and materials in a region that is already volatile and violent, and that determines the world’s oil prices, is an appalling scenario. The market has already taken the measure of the past week’s tensions, driving up the price of some oil contracts to their highest levels in eight months.