Time for Iran to stop meddling and start talking

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Time for Iran to stop meddling and start talking

Once again, the US, Europe and Arab states have asked Iran to stop meddling in other countries’ affairs, and criticized its ballistic missile program — this time at the annual Munich Security Conference. In response, both in a speech and in interviews with international media, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tried to justify his country’s regional presence and its missile program.
Zarif reminded his audience that Iran was abandoned by the international community when Saddam Hussein invaded in 1980. He spoke of Iran’s defense needs, but rather than address the issues that other countries are concerned about, he proposed a new regional security structure.
This new structure would be based on the 1975 Helsinki Accords, a 10-point non-binding agreement aimed at reducing Cold War tensions between the Soviet bloc and the West. It is an interesting proposal, and a tacit admission by Zarif that there is a “cold war” in progress between Iran and its Arab neighbors, under the constant shadow of potential escalation. Let us see if, in the coming days, Zarif offers any suggestions as to how this “new Helsinki” might operate.
Meanwhile, however, Iran refuses to answer the accusations leveled against it by the rest of the world. There was a fascinating exchange in an interview last week, when Zarif was asked when was the last time he spoke to the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al-Jubeir. “We have talked to each other,” he said. “The last time I saw him was on the sidelines of an international conference. But I don’t mind talking to him.”

Sideshows such as a new ‘Helsinki-style’ regional security structure will achieve nothing until Tehran embraces genuine change.

Camelia Entekhabifard

If you “don’t mind talking to him,” Mr. Zarif, then why don’t you get on with it, instead of wasting time with a Helsinki-style agreement? The fact is, of course, that what worries Iran is not regional security, but the fate of the 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear weapons program, an agreement that is currently in limbo while US President Donald Trump ponders its fate.
Since Trump took office, every four months Iranian leaders have a headache and have to hold their breath to hear if he will continue to waive the sanctions related to the accord, or if he will decide to take the US out of the deal.
The nuclear agreement has not made Iran a better neighbor or a friendlier nation. Instead, it has increased Tehran’s regional aggression, and now Iran is even brutally confronting its own people, who are tired of the regime squandering its scarce resources in trying to extend its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Who wants to deal with such a country?
Even the leading members of the European Union, the main defenders of the nuclear deal, now say they hear and understand President Trump’s concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and destabilizing regional role.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at a meeting in Munich, expressed concerns at Iran’s provision of missiles to the Houthi militias, with May saying that the UK “understood” the US worries at Iran’s behavior and was ready to take action to confront it.
This action may soon take place at the UN Security Council. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, is working on a draft resolution with the support of the UK, France and Germany to hold Iran accountable for its failure to prevent the supply of missiles to the Houthi militias in Yemen.
Iran will have to talk with the world, and with its own people, about its regional interference and its missile program, in order to be accepted by the international community and Iranian citizens. Complications such as “Helsinki 2018” don’t help. Improvements will come only when genuine change is seen and felt.
Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Twitter: @CameliaFard.
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