Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Iran’s charm initiative

Iran has been reaching out to its Arab neighbours in the wake of the deal on its nuclear programme, at present with uncertain results, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme will soon be a month old, and since the first days of the deal Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif has been busy selling the deal to his country’s neighbours.

Iran has invested considerable efforts in improving relations with its Arab neighbours, and Zarif has traveled to Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq on official visits to explain the deal and engage the countries in regional talks.

However, frustrations over the apparently endless crises in Syria and Iraq and the expansion of Yemen’s civil war could jeopardise the stability of many countries in the region and Iran is no exception.

 Zarif has urged Iran’s neighbours to unite against extremism, an attempt at rapprochement that the country’s neighbours, especially Saudi Arabia, are cautious about and to which they have not responded.  

Iran and Saudi Arabia have never had good relations and not only because of Iran’s nuclear programme. Some of the differences came after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when there was an idea of expanding the revolution to other Muslim countries, and some are related to Iran’s military presence in the region.

The main issue now seems to be about the crises in Syria and Yemen and which of the two countries, Saudi Arabia or Iran, is to have the greater influence in the region. Having unlocked its relations with the West after 12 years of struggle, Iran is now looking to use a similar strategy with its neighbours.

Iran’s foreign minister published an opinion article in Lebanese, Qatari and Kuwaiti newspapers earlier this month, holding out the hand, he said, of unity and friendship. However, none of the major Arab papers reprinted the article, and it was not discussed in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain.

Zarif entitled the article, “First the Neighbour, then the House,” which is a well-known proverb in Iran. However, those posting comments on it on the Web urged Zarif to take action rather than just talking about doing so.

Iranian politicians believe that owing to a lack of communication with their Arab neighbours, trust has been lost, allowing what they see as baseless accusations to circulate. Though Iran is not in the mood or willing to talk about the past, these politicians want to act constructively and at the same time open up space for Iran in the region.

Tehran’s experience of concentrating on its nuclear file during the years of negotiations has caused the country to turn to other matters. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently told the US Congress that now was the time to discuss other issues, such as Iran’s sending arms to the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah or supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Now Iran will likely open discussion on such issues, including with its Arab neighbours. The government of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani seems sure to want to make progress on regional talks before the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September.

Rouhani has earned a good reputation in international circles thanks to the nuclear deal, and he will want to cash this in before its charm expires in order to get the best-possible deal on other issues. 

With a good perspective for the US Congress to approve the Iran nuclear deal by 17 September, Rouhani has plans to address the General Assembly meeting in New York on 28 September.

Iran needs to make efforts at this time to build trust and unite the region to support regional talks, as this will help build support for Rouhani’s initiative at the UN.

In Zarif’s opinion article, published on 3 August, he said that “we all have to accept that zero-sum-games are over. We are all either winners or losers.”

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