Arab nations ready to talk should Iran end its hostility
During his Scandinavian tour last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif renewed his call for constructive dialogue between Iran’s regime and the Arabian Gulf nations, Saudi Arabia in particular. During a dialogue session held in the Swedish capital Stockholm, Zarif said: “When I was in Kuwait, I told the Kuwaitis that we are ready to start a dialogue with Saudi Arabia as of tomorrow if they are ready.”
He continued by claiming: “They (Saudi Arabia’s leaders) say strange things. The Saudis say that ‘Zarif is not
influential, and our problem is with Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.’ When I first became foreign minister, we proposed to (former Saudi Foreign Minister) Saud Al-Faisal that we’re ready to hold talks on Yemen,
Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. I sent a message with the same proposal that, if you believe your allegation that I am the top propagandist for the regime, Soleimani will speak with you.”
As to Zarif's proposal that Saudi Arabia’s leadership engages in dialogue with Soleimani — this is incredibly ridiculous.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
During his foreign trips, especially to European countries, Zarif always repeats such comments to give the erroneous impression to the publics there that the Iranians are not the ones who are hindering dialogue with their neighboring states, but it is the Arabs who are a problem, especially Saudi Arabia.
Tehran makes many attempts to prove its allegation. Sometimes it says that Saudi Arabia is still unprepared for dialogue due to unspecified domestic political reasons. At other times, it says that Saudi Arabia cannot take a step that runs counter to US policy, as well as claiming that Riyadh wants tensions with Iran to continue and that it encourages sanctions against Tehran. Therefore, according to these arguments, Saudi Arabia has no desire to engage in dialogue or negotiations with Iran for the time being
By weaving the aforementioned arguments into a narrative, Iran’s regime is able to exert significant influence over European and other Western audiences. However, the reality, of which Iran is well aware despite its media overtures and abrasive diplomatic comments, is that all the Arabian Gulf states, headed by Saudi Arabia, are ready for dialogue with Iran and they seek to achieve peace and stability for the entire region. At the same time, however, they realize that, given their historical experiences and Iran’s current behavior, the remarks made by the Iranian government, and especially by Iran’s Foreign Ministry, are not influential in Iran’s decision-making process, nor do they carry political messages that should be treated seriously.
Foremost among all the problematic issues is the lack of confidence that Arabs have in the Iranian side due to the “revolutionary state’s” duplicity and the routine contradictions in its positions, especially when it speaks of its relations with its Arab neighbors. This behavior leads Arab nations to ignore the words and instead look at the actions on the ground in order to understand the real aims of the Iranian regime’s policy toward the region, along with its objectives and orientations.
At one recent conference in Europe, a well-known former Iranian diplomat, who is close to the current Iranian government, said that: “There are multiple political orientations in Iran; therefore, it is quite normal to witness some contradictions. However, in any period of actual decision-making, the whole matter lies in the hands of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in person, who has sole and absolute authority.”
He added: “As to the comments and threats made by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) or extremist figures within the regime, they should also not be taken seriously. These are strictly for domestic consumption.”
I directly mentioned to the aforementioned diplomat that, in 2018, IRGC commander Nasser Shabani said in an interview with the Fars news agency: “We told the Yemenis (the Houthis) to open fire on the two Saudi oil tankers. They did it.” By mentioning this, I wished to find out whether the diplomat was attempting to suggest that the step of firing on the Saudi tankers was taken by the IRGC of its own free will and without any intervention from Iran’s central decision-making circles, or was it, as is a great deal more probable, taken following the endorsement and orders of Khamenei?
If this action of firing on Saudi tankers was taken independently of state authority, with the IRGC acting as an autonomous entity, this would prove definitively that the IRGC acts as a sovereign co-ruler of a two-winged state in tandem with Khamenei. If the decision was taken by Iran’s central administration, however, this is more dangerous as it proves the regime’s hostile intentions toward its neighboring states, especially Saudi Arabia. In addition, whichever of these two possibilities is true, it would provide conclusive evidence that the Houthis have received orders from Iran. The Iranian diplomat gave no answer, claiming that the Yemeni case is different from other situations and has its own special circumstances.
This example, along with many other indications, proves yet again that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states are affected by Iran’s hostile behavior and they have more than enough justifications not to take Zarif’s calls for dialogue seriously. Al-Faisal told Zarif this six years ago. Since then, there has been no significant change in the situation and what changes have occurred have certainly not been for the better. Not only has there been no decline in the Iranian regime’s hostile and antagonistic policies on the ground, but they have intensified and become more aggressive, certainly compared to the situation in 2013.
As to Zarif's proposal that Saudi Arabia’s leadership engages in dialogue with Soleimani — this is incredibly ridiculous. Soleimani’s hands are drenched with the blood of the innocent, and he has rightly been placed on the terrorism watch list. Proposing to the leaders of the region’s countries that they hold dialogue with Soleimani is like suggesting that they hold talks with Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi or the leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahri. This proposal deserves the same rejection as the hypothetical proposals suggested.
In light of all these facts, it is clear that Tehran must return to a pragmatic position of political realism and reconsider the hostile approach it is pursuing toward its Arab neighbors if it wants to establish normal relations and mutual trust, which can lead to political stability, economic prosperity and joint commercial interests in the Arabian Gulf.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami