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Are Mideast allies buying the Iran deal being sold by the Obama administration?

How is the Iran nuclear agreement perceived across the Middle East? Judy Woodruff gets a roundup of reactions from Fahad Nazer, a former Saudi Arabian Embassy official, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I'm joined by former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Fahad Nazer. He's a former political analyst at the embassy of Saudi Arabia here in Washington.

    And, gentlemen, we welcome you all.

    Marwan Muasher, to you first. What is the reaction in general to this deal in Jordan?

  • MARWAN MUASHER, Former Jordanian Foreign Minister:

    The reaction in the Middle East in general, not just in Jordan, is, on the one side, a sign of relief that the region is going to be avoiding a war with catastrophic results.

    On the other side, there is concern about Iran's role in the region and what an enhanced or an — added financial resources that will become available to Iran, what that might mean in terms of Iran and its role in such places as Syria or Yemen or other places in the Middle East.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Fahad Nazer, what about your perception of reaction in the region?

  • FAHAD NAZER, Former Saudi Arabian Embassy Official:

    Well, in terms of Saudi Arabia, I think, at this point, one should probably draw a distinction between the official government position and the prevailing sentiment.

    Initially, the government issued a rather innocuous-sounding statement that was read as a tacit endorsement. This is back on July 14. Now, since then, obviously, the foreign minister has met with top U.S. officials, including President Obama and Secretary Kerry. And Secretary Carter was in Saudi Arabia just two weeks ago.

    And since then, the Saudi position has shifted slightly, but in a significant fashion. The foreign minister ended up — after meeting Secretary Carter, he ended up saying that, while we are still in consultation with the U.S. government, that the agreement does seem to appear to have enough provisions to address our concerns.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So some sense of reassurance?

  • FAHAD NAZER:

    Indeed.

    However, as I said at the outset, I think the prevailing sentiment is a little different than the official position. I think there are many in Saudi Arabia specifically who still are very concerned about Iran's intentions, who, even in looking at the agreement, think that Iran in some ways was rewarded for its bad behavior over the years.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Makovsky, what about the reaction in Israel? Is there as much negative reaction there as Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed?

    DAVID MAKOVSKY, Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu set the tone. There's no doubt. His main point is that the objective of the negotiations has profoundly shifted from trying to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program to merely deferring it.

    And, as you know, he's been very vocal in that regard. He has made the point that Marwan just made about the cash infusion of the region as a result of their new status, unlocking of their bank accounts, that would lead to really perhaps billions of dollars for their allies to engage in destabilizing activities and emboldened Iranian influence in the region.

    The public, if you look at the polls, the polling data show that you have got about 70 to 80 percent opposed, 10 percent approve, and the same — about the same percentage who say Iran's going to get a nuclear weapon under this deal.

    And the reason why I think it's so strong is not just because of Netanyahu's dominance as a leader, but because they hear the ayatollah's statement, I want to annihilate Israel, and that they, not just rhetorically, feel they have been on the receiving end of bombs from Hezbollah in 2006 and in rounds with Hamas subsequent to that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    OK. I want to come back to Marwan Muasher, and the point I think all three of you are reflecting, in a way, the worry that Iran will use the money it gets from unfreezing its assets to create more mischief in the region.

    I'm sure you know U.S. officials are saying that this is a concern that the U.S. is already prepared for, that Iran is — that it's illegal for Iran to do this anyway, and if they start to engage in this kind of behavior, the U.S. will push back.

  • MARWAN MUASHER:

    Yes, Iran's role in the region has not been part of the negotiations over the nuclear fight. And that remains the weakest part of the agreement.

    I still think, on balance, the agreement is a very good one, because the lack of an agreement would probably have meant war, war that wouldn't have stopped the Iranian nuclear program. In fact, it might have encouraged it.

    Having said that, because the negotiations didn't involve Iran's role in the region, that remains the principal concern among countries of the region. Is Iran going to use that extra money for more mischief, and what leverage does the U.S. have to prevent Iran from using that extra money? That remains the concern.

    It is not — you know, I don't think the countries of the Gulf are asking necessarily the United States for more arms, for more security arrangements. They certainly do not intend to get into a war with Iran but they're asking for assurances that Iran's role is not going to be enhanced in the region.

    And, frankly, I'm not sure how the United States can give such assurances to countries of the Gulf in particular.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, a couple of points.

    And I will come to Fahad Nazer on that, because U.S. officials have addressed this. They have said that, if Iran does this, they will push back. The U.S. will push back, in concert with other nations. They have said that, if necessary, they will beef up the ability of other countries to defend themselves. And they have also talked about how much more money, Mr. Nazer, is already spent by Saudi Arabia, for example, and these other countries like Qatar than Iran is spending.

    They're saying there is already an imbalance, but which the U.S. is prepared to redress if necessary.

  • FAHAD NAZER:

    Well, I'm not sure about that.

    I mean, it's not really only Saudi Arabia or the U.S. that has expressed concern about what Iran could potentially do with the billions of dollars worth of unfrozen assets. It's high officials at the United Nations. There is at least one official at the United Nations who estimates that Iran has provided Bashar al-Assad's regime with $6 million worth of support annually.

    Now, Syria has gotten lost a little bit in the conversation, but I think Syria remains to be at the top of Saudi Arabia's agenda. I think Saudi Arabia has invested tremendous political capital in Syria. I think they see it as the main source of destabilization in the region at this point.

    And I'm sure that they are hoping that the U.S. is well aware of that. And there's indication that Secretary Kerry has — is now willing to focus more on Syria, now that the nuclear issue is behind him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And there is some indication of that.

    David Makovsky, is the concern in Israel that the U.S. is just not prepared to push back if Iran does begin to become more aggressive in the region?

  • DAVID MAKOVSKY:

    Yes, I think that's a concern. Terms like pushback or we got to, like, raise our A-game become like words that get bandied about, around, that people say, well, what does that exactly mean?

    So, does that mean that the Treasury, which has designated all these banks and entities and individuals for terrorism sanctions, are we going to now increase that when we see enhanced money going to Hezbollah? Is there going to be new legislation of sanctions in that regard?

    No one's talking about a wholesale reimposition of sanctions like there is under this deal, but the question is, are we going to do that? Are we going to gauge a contingency planning for interdiction of ships carrying weapons to some of Iran's proxies? People want to know more specifics.

    And, I mean, just to say, well, the Sunnis give more money and Iran is going to give money, it just means that the Middle East is going to be more awash in weapons. So the question is, short of giving more weapons to the other side, are there other things we can do very specifically that give, you know, real teeth to the term pushback?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, let me just quickly, in very little time, could I just ask each one of you to comment briefly on whether you think the U.S. is going to be able to assuage these concerns, assuming Congress OKs these deals?

    Marwan Muasher?

  • MARWAN MUASHER:

    It's going to take a lot more than what the U.S. is already doing to convince its allies in the region that there is serious pushback.

    And I frankly have concerns about that, given the fact that I think the Obama administration is trying to get out of the region, and not to have — to be more involved.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Makovsky?

  • DAVID MAKOVSKY:

    I think whether this deal does or doesn't happen, you're going to need an upgraded U.S.-Israeli security relationship. This is the most turbulent period the Middle East has gone through in 100 years.

    This deal is going to add to that turbulence. And, therefore, it's important that these two allies that are bickering right now find a way of putting it behind them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, finally, Fahad Nazer.

  • FAHAD NAZER:

    Well, I think the U.S. has been very persistent.

    And I think some of that effort is paying off. However, I still do think that Saudi Arabia has major concerns about Iran's ultimate intentions for the region.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Gentlemen, we thank you all three, Fahad Nazer, David Makovsky, Marwan Muasher.

  • MARWAN MUASHER:

    Thank you.

  • DAVID MAKOVSKY:

    Thank you.

  • FAHAD NAZER:

    Thank you.

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