An unusual fear is gripping the Arab world, namely that nuclear diplomacy may yet bring Iran and the United States into a close regional embrace. This may seem comical given the legacy of mistrust separating the two nations. Yet this concern among Arab rulers, fueled by progress toward a final agreement on Tehran's nuclear program, may have some justification in history. The United States has never been able to pursue arms control without delusion and has always insisted on sanctifying its negotiating partners, conjuring up moderates and searching for common ground. The challenge for Washington today is to defy its history and reach a nuclear agreement with Iran while negating the Islamic Republic's regional ambitions.
During the heydays of detente in the 1970s, nuclear accords between the United States and Soviet Union were inevitably followed by commerce and diplomatic recognition. Successive U.S. administrations were seduced by the notion that a nuclear agreement could pave the way for grander geopolitical convergence. If the thorny nuclear issues could be resolved through cool-headed dialogue, the thinking went, then why not other areas of superpower contention? This proved a fools' errand, as the Kremlin saw no contradiction between negotiating a treaty on arms limitation and invading Afghanistan. U.S. adversaries have always been more practical about arms control and have seldom forfeited their ideological claims for the sake of trade and reconciliation.