Iran should prove it wants peace in region
The weekend visit of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, whose country currently heads the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab summit, is an opportunity for Tehran to turn over a new leaf in Gulf ties, they said.
“It’s a significant visit and a very important opportunity to show if Iran really wants to develop its ties with the Gulf and open a new page with them,” said Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “So far, Tehran’s policies haven’t changed... it has bolstered its military involvement in Syria and dispatched troops to support the regime against the people. It has also increased its interference in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Gulf states won’t accept Iran’s control of any Arab country for improving ties,” said Kahwaji.
For years, Iran’s relations with the Gulf countries have been frosty, but Tehran launched a diplomatic offensive aimed at easing these tensions since the election of self-declared moderate Hassan Rouhani as president in June 2013. In December, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif toured Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Qatar.Two weeks ago, however, his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud Al-Faisal invited Zarif to visit, and Tehran welcomed the invitation without a date being set.
In March, Rouhani himself visited Oman, which has maintained strong links with Iran and has mediated between the West and Tehran over its nuclear program, and offered “a hand of fraternity to all the countries of the region.”
Ties between Gulf countries and Iran have been further strained by Tehran’s backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in its battle against rebels. “Without a real change in Iran’s policy on the ground, I don’t think there will be any breakthrough in relations with Gulf Arab states. Nothing of this has happened,” Kahwaji said. In Muscat, Rouhani stressed negotiations can resolve all differences, saying talks had helped end the deadlock in Iran’s nuclear negotiations. Gulf leaders welcomed in December an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program but said concrete measures must follow.
Anwar Eshki, head of the Middle East Center for Strategic Studies, said Iran appears to be serious in its efforts to mend ties but also stressed deeds are needed. “I think a good opportunity exists to improve Gulf-Iranian relations provided that Iran takes practical steps in Syria and other places,” Eshki said. “Rapprochement is possible now, and I think Iran is willing because its economy is deteriorating and popular demands are rising... Iran is currently reconsidering its policies,” he said. Eshki and Kahwaji agreed that unilateral contacts between some GCC states and Iran would not undermine the bloc’s united strategy.
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