Iran should seek genuine partnerships with its neighbors
During his participation in a panel discussion on the sidelines of this month’s World Economic Forum, entitled “Keeping the lights on amid geopolitical fractures,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said: “We feel strongly that what we are doing in the Kingdom and what others are doing in the region, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, in facing economic challenges and investing in their countries with a focus on development is a strong signal to Iran and others in the region that there is a pathway beyond traditional arguments and disputes toward joint prosperity.”
This perception highlights Saudi Arabia’s search for unconventional solutions to the problems of the Arab Gulf, specifically the strained relations with Iran. Riyadh is fully aware that Tehran is its neighbor and there is a political geography that cannot be changed. Therefore, these two countries that border the Gulf must adopt dialogue as the only way to reach solutions to existing problems.
Prince Faisal presented the economy and development as a platform from which to start to build confidence and get out of the circle of security and political crises to an area that is more beneficial to all countries in the region.
Iran suffers from several economic crises and unrest and demonstrations in many cities, which have been ongoing for several months. Moreover, inflation levels are rising. The Statistical Center of Iran announced last year that the inflation rate for households in the 12 months to March 2022 had reached 40.2 percent.
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi told parliament that he was “very concerned about the rate of inflation in the country,” as it was about 59.3 percent when his government took office in August 2021. It has since witnessed a decrease of 19 percent. He added that decisions must be taken to reduce it even more significantly. But the decline in the inflation rate is something that many observers question, especially with the increasing criticism — even from within Iran’s conservative current — of the poor economic performance of Raisi’s government.
Iran’s rigid foreign policy stances and its continued support for the armed militias that are loyal to it in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Syria have turned international public opinion against it. Tehran continues to engage in activities that destabilize the security of the region, particularly its support of terrorist groups through the Quds Force, the external arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
So, this image, which was formed due to Iran’s own practices, has resulted in political stances and even international resolutions in the UN Security Council. Sanctions have been imposed on many Iranian companies, prompting foreign firms to stop investing in Iran.
Hence the importance of focusing on development and the economy as per the speech of the Saudi foreign minister. He knows that the problems of the Iranian people can only be solved by improving their level of income and this can only be done by creating a strong economy that is connected to the world. All of this depends on one thing: Iran’s behavior toward its neighbors.
Amir-Abdollahian wants the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia to be the regime’s salvation from its crises
High-level diplomacy and the policy of offering opportunities for real communication, which were outlined by Prince Faisal, are important for Iranian politicians to build on, especially since the Saudi foreign minister confirmed that, “when it comes to Iran, we have reached out and we are trying to find a path to dialogue … We believe very strongly that dialogue is the best pathway to resolving differences.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry has, on many occasions, whether through Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian or spokesman Nasser Kanaani, spoken positively about Saudi Arabia and Tehran’s desire to establish good relations with the Kingdom. However, the problem is that, through this, they want to launch test balloons and show that Tehran is the one that extends the hand of peace, while Riyadh is the one that refuses it, which is not true.
These statements are part of the negotiating papers and an attempt at political pressure and media marketing. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia wants the dialogue to continue in a serious and non-urgent manner because the goal is to reach a strong understanding.
Hassan Fahs, a researcher specializing in Iranian affairs, wrote in an article: “The Tehran regime is run by two heads, one of which tends to enhance cooperation, while the other seeks to block the road to its relations with the Arab surroundings and neighborhood.”
Fahs believes that “Amir-Abdollahian is well aware that achieving positive results in the dialogue with Saudi Arabia constitutes a solid ground for restoring the Iranian relationship with the international community and regional capitals, and allows Tehran to use it as a card of strength at the negotiating table with the international six-party system, especially Washington, on the nuclear file.”
So, this insistence on the part of the Iranian foreign minister is due to his realization of the magnitude of the economic and political difficulties facing his country. He now wants the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia to be the regime’s salvation from its crises. However, Riyadh will not offer this salvation for free, nor will it help Iran to catch its breath, take a warrior’s rest and then resume exporting its revolution and supporting armed militias.
Saudi Arabia wants a strong and sustainable agreement, with a high degree of clarity and commitment, that solves the existing security and political problems and normalizes competition between the countries of the region within international frameworks. Therefore, the best way for Iran is to seek real partnerships with its neighbors and not just temporary solutions that will soon collapse.
• Hassan Al-Mustafa is a Saudi writer and researcher interested in Islamic movements, the development of religious discourse and the relationship between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Iran. Twitter: @Halmustafa