Peace can only be achieved if all sides make concessions
Last week, United States Senator Rand Paul spoke about the prospects for peace between Iran and its neighbors. The setting was a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified. Paul argued that, to achieve peace with Iran, it is necessary for the opposing regional interests to participate in any negotiations.
Paul tends to think differently about foreign policy than his fellow Republicans. He generally opposes military intervention around the world and always questions the efficacy of interventions, regardless of which president ordered them. At this hearing, Paul spoke to Pompeo and argued that the US needs to change its method of negotiating with Iran. In particular, it must better understand the interests of all sides involved, not just the interests of the US.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 countries in 2015 was destined to fail, according to Paul, because countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia were not asked to participate. I have previously argued that Israel, Saudi Arabia and other regional leaders must be included in any negotiations with Iran because their interests are at stake. The senator took a different perspective: He argued that it is necessary to include the countries Iran opposes in order to convince Iran to make actual changes.
The ultimate goal of the sanctions and negotiations with Iran is peace. Ideally, peace would be achieved without a regional arms race and without a conflict precipitating concessions. The best way to pursue such peace, if it is possible, is through diplomatic negotiations. After the US, under President Barack Obama, gave away $100 billion in cash to Iran as an incentive to sign the JCPOA and release some American hostages, Paul wondered “what are the next inducements to get (Iran) to sign?” The goal, according to the senator, is not to get Iran to just sign a deal, but to abide by an agreement — a goal the US neglected when it handed over all of the cash at the start.
The solution to incentivizing Iran that Paul described is quite novel, at least among the elites of Washington. He sees regional negotiations as key to the successful implementation of any agreement. “If you leave Saudi Arabia out of (negotiations) and you leave Israel out of (negotiations), and you look at Iran in isolation — that’s not the way (Iranians) perceive it,” he explained. His point is that, while we all want Iran to forego nuclear technology and ballistic missiles, we must be realistic and expect that there will need to be concessions all around.
Iran will never truly take the steps necessary to ensure regional security unless it can be seen as obtaining concessions from its near neighbors.
Ellen R. Wald
The Iranian regime maintains power in large part through perpetuation of the “revolution,” which it started in 1979. It continues to present itself to the people of Iran as an opponent to external, foreign powers. Traditionally those powers were the US and the UK; also included was Israel. Today, Saudi Arabia has taken a place among those foreign powers in the eyes of the Iranian rulers.
The Iranian regime has created for itself an image as the opposition to these powers. Now it is an essential part of the continuing “revolution” for Iran to act against these powers and, in particular, against the regional powers of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Iran will never truly take the steps necessary to ensure regional security unless it can be seen as obtaining concessions from its near neighbors.
While Paul may be lacking in some historical knowledge about the conflicts between Iran and its neighbors and may not have complete information about the nuances, he did make a very important point about the war in Yemen. He said: “Iran’s not going to stop (arming the Houthis in Yemen), but they might if you sat them down with the Saudi Arabians and said ‘this arms race doesn’t make sense’.” Traditionally, wars were ended when either one side surrendered or both sides gave up in exhaustion. In either case, the enemies must be at the negotiating table seeking peace.
Peace in Yemen will not be achieved simply because Pompeo demands that Iran withdraws. Even US sanctions will not be powerful enough to force peace in Yemen, and the US will never participate in an invasion. Peace will be achieved when all of the parties involved in Yemen — including Iran and Saudi Arabia — negotiate a settlement. Iran knows this.
There are no illusions that Iran will become a friendly partner any time soon, at least not with the current regime in power. However, if Iran is to be engaged with diplomatically — as the P5+1 countries have done — it must be engaged appropriately. That is only possible when Iran sees Israel and Saudi Arabia participating in the negotiations.
Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Arabia Foundation, a Washington think tank, and the president of Transversal Consulting. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy