Much ado about nothing
If one carefully examines the timeline of Washington and Tehran political flirtations culminating in the much-talked-about telephone conversation between leaders of the two countries, it would be safe to declare the fears — expressed by many Arab analysts — as unwarranted.
The telephone conversation between President Barack Obama and Hassan Rowhani was not a last-minute decision to break the ice. Things don’t work that simply in global politics. It took Iran a considerable amount of time and efforts to reach this stage.
In 1998, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called for a “dialogue among civilizations” with the US, which responded positively by exchanging wrestling teams and easing travel restrictions between the two countries.
Prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, reports say that Tehran had offered Washington to open its nuclear facilities for inspection, to rein in Hezbollah and cooperation against Al-Qaeda. The offer described as the “Grand Bargain” failed to convince the Bush administration that Tehran could succeed in coming up to the US expectations as Khatami was reportedly under fire from the hard-liners at home.
In May 2006, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dispatched a letter to Washington proposing new ways to end the standoff over nukes. This attempt also failed at convincing the White House.
In the same vein, former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in May 2007 expressed Tehran’s willingness to talk to the US, however, with strings attached to it.
It was only in 2007 and 2008, when the US and the Iranian diplomats met in Baghdad to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program.
Observers may recall that Ahmadinejad issued a congratulatory message to Obama, two days after his election. This was the first high-level communication between the two sides since the 1979 revolution.
A year later, at the beginning of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on March 19, 2009, Obama spoke directly to the Iranian people through a recorded video message in which he welcomed a responsible-Iran to join the global community.
In this backdrop, one could easily understand the reality of Rowhani’s so-called “charm offensive.”
Moreover, the meeting between the US and Iran scheduled on Oct. 15 and 16 is imperative as it is in the interests of the powers that be, who are perturbed over the chaotic situation of the Middle East.
They appear convinced that Iran could play a role in defusing tensions particularly in Syria and Lebanon.
Now comes the question of expansion of Iranian “ideological” borders. It is impossible. Period. Hegemony is only achieved when a country is strong economically, militarily and culturally. Without this mix, hegemony is not possible.
The current situation of Iran is an open secret. Iranian economy is in tatters due to years of strict economic sanctions spearheaded by the US. Unemployment rate among youths has reached 50 percent coupled with inflation. Iran is now on the verge of economic collapse, which may lead to civil unrest.
Without economic potency, it is difficult for a non-industrial country, such as Iran to maintain military strength. Culturally, regardless of the fact that the majority of Muslims practices Sunni Islam, Iran’s foreign policy is anchored around rallying the masses against the US and the obliteration of Israel off the face of the planet.
Whether the statement of wiping Israel is a rhetorical catchphrase for popular consumption or an expression of intent, the statement only functions to embolden both the US and Israel to counter even a potential challenge to their conventional influence by Iran in the region, not to mention sharing this influence with it.
These are signs that Iran is ready to let go of its nuclear ambitions. In other words Iran has run out of steam. In order for Iran to survive, it is imperative that it maintains cordial ties with the neighboring GCC countries.
To forge and protect such a partnership, a “permanent dialogue commission” should be established to openly address all current political and cultural issues pertinent to the region. The initiative of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to invite President Rowhani to perform Haj appears to be the first step in that direction.
• Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh.
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