Region needs actions not words from Iran

Region needs actions not words from Iran

A handout picture provided by the Iranian Presidency on October 14, 2019 shows President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a press conference in the Iranian capital Tehran. (File/AFP)

Many regional and global media outlets have covered the ongoing attempts to break the ice between Saudi Arabia and Iran in order to defuse escalating tensions in the Arabian Gulf. Some are optimistic about the possible outcome, while others offer a much bleaker outlook. 

During recent weeks, by closely monitoring Iranian state media outlets, I have found that there is a particular focus on one point — namely that the Saudi leadership had asked several global leaders to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran. The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Iranian government, both commented on this alleged approach by the Saudi leadership, prompting the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al-Jubeir, to deny the claims via his Twitter account. 

Al-Jubeir asserted that, although the Saudi leadership had not approached any other leaders with such a request, several prominent figures from allied nations had expressed their desire to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, adding that Riyadh did not object to these offers. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government denied claims made in the Iranian media that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to mediate and that he had been given a message by Saudi Arabia to convey to the Iranian leadership. 

Personally, I hope the Saudi and Iranian governments will reach an agreement that opens a new page in relations between the two states. This hope applies to relations between my homeland, Saudi Arabia, and all other nations, since I am certain that Riyadh seeks harmonious relations with all other countries. This wish for harmonious coexistence with all other nations has become even more urgent in light of the Saudi leadership’s ambitious 2030 economic vision, which focuses on economic integration and establishing strong relations with fellow nations worldwide.

There have been no meaningful confidence-building measures initiated by Iran to ease Riyadh’s concerns

Unfortunately, however, despite much wishful thinking, and with all due respect and appreciation for the mediation efforts we read about in the media, my sources confirm that the escalating tensions between the two pivotal states in the region cannot be resolved via diplomatic mediation due to some fundamental reasons. There is a lack of trust and confidence between the two states and there are significant differences between them concerning the best way to manage sensitive political and strategic regional issues, as well as diplomatic relations between regional and global nations. 

Saudi Arabia has pursued a pragmatic foreign policy, forging relations with global powers despite their differing agendas, while Iran’s regime, in most cases, especially at the regional level, is dependent on a strategy of bypassing states and their official institutions and reaching out instead to non-state actors. The Iranian regime, in short, relies on establishing ties with a network of religious and sectarian minorities as a means to export its expansionist ideological theocratic ruling doctrine in an effort to undermine or at least weaken ruling political systems in the region.

As a result of the political isolation to which the Iranian regime is currently being subjected both regionally and internationally, and the tough sanctions imposed on Iran by the current US administration, which have severely damaged the Iranian economy, there is a desire that exists in the Iranian leadership to alleviate these pressures by boosting relations with Saudi Arabia at the tactical, rather than strategic, level. However, there have been no meaningful confidence-building measures initiated by Iran to ease Riyadh’s concerns, as it continues with its hostile policies and expansionist project, and continues to support its network of proxies in the region. 

As a result, Riyadh is skeptical of the Iranian government’s statements, since confidence is not built through the use of words — however nice — but through a change in behavior. Actions not words are what matters in foreign policy. In other words, Saudi Arabia believes that, for a different phase in its relations with Iran to begin, Tehran must show positive practical steps on the ground, whether in Syria, Iraq or Yemen, and end its links with various terror proxies as well as its continued provision of money, weapons and expertise to these proxies. 

The Iranian leadership’s previous policy of engaging in dialogue for the sake of dialogue in order to exploit the element of time will no longer be accepted by Saudi Arabia due to its previous bitter experience and its first-hand knowledge of the Iranian regime’s expansionist ambitions in the region. 

Regardless of the nature of relations between Tehran, Washington and the European capitals, the Saudi position will remain firm and unchanged, as was the case during the Iranian regime’s 2015 nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries. Iran made all the wrong calculations and arrogantly disregarded regional concerns and reservations when it signed the nuclear deal without input from its neighbors. As a result of all these factors and of the aforementioned disastrous miscalculations on the Iranian regime’s part, we find ourselves back to square one. 

Ultimately, if Iran’s regime truly wishes to reduce tensions and improve relations with its neighbors — an aspiration that is not currently within the realm of possibility given Tehran’s antagonistic and threatening behavior — it is imperative that it changes its behavior and reconsiders its policies in order to save the region and the world from grave consequences, such as greater instability and insecurity.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
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