RIYADH – As 2014 begins, there is no more important question in world diplomacy than this: Has Iran changed? Since his election in June, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has signaled a more moderate stance in his country’s international relations. But caution is in order – now and in the years ahead. The world’s second-largest oil producer, and self-proclaimed leader of Shia Islam and anti-Western Muslim revolutionaries everywhere, remains a danger not just to Saudi Arabia but also to peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond.
Saudi Arabia has two large concerns about the Islamic Republic: its quest for nuclear weapons and its interference in its neighbors’ affairs.
For starters, Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons pose a huge danger, and, if left unchecked, are likely to trigger a wave of proliferation across the Middle East. Faced with a nuclear-armed Iran, the Gulf Cooperation Council members, for example, will be forced to weigh their options carefully – and possibly to acquire a nuclear deterrent of their own.
While all countries have the right to develop a civilian nuclear program – we Saudis have our own – Iran’s attempt to pursue nuclear weapons has brought nothing but hardship to the country. Unfortunately, the international community’s increasingly severe economic sanctions have so far failed to deter its leaders’ ambitions. If Rouhani proves unwilling or unable to engineer a change of course, what else might be done?