Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Iran at the table

Tehran has a golden opportunity to join the international fold via Vienna, writes Camelia Entakhbifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to meet with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday. But after the night of terror in the capital Paris on Friday, the two leaders spoke on the phone instead.

Later, Rouhani tweeted: “In a phone conversation with President Hollande, we both stressed the vital importance of fighting Islamic State and terrorism.”

Although Rouhani cancelled his trip to Europe, which would have also included Italy and the Vatican, Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif headed to Vienna to attend talks on the Syrian crisis. Terrorist attacks in Paris seem to have changed international alliances to combat Islamic State (IS), including inviting Iran to the table.

The Vienna conference agreed to resume Syrian talks within one month; six weeks after that, a ceasefire will be put in place. Like it or not, Iran is part of the negotiations on Syria, and Tehran is likely to prioritise Syria over all other issues — at least until the next elections in Iran.

Iran is participating in multilateral talks on Syria, which include the US, despite resistance by Ayatollah Khamenei and his supporters, who have no other choice if they want to play a role in Syria’s future.

Critics of Iran’s involvement in the Vienna talks cannot decry direct Iranian-US interaction because the issue is critical to Iran’s national security. The urgent need to find a political solution in Syria has finally brought Iran to the Vienna talks, and it has been very active in meetings.

While parties to the talks may be divided about the fate of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, everyone agrees that a political solution is essential to end this protracted conflict and defeat terrorism.

The barbaric terrorist attacks in France, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey — all perpetrated by IS — have given birth to a world alliance that gives priority to global security. Iran is becoming more visible on the international arena, which indicates that the world community has growing faith in Iran’s ability to positively influence regional issues, especially after it signed a nuclear deal with the 5+1 group.

Perhaps Iran’s presence in Vienna is even more beneficial in building up Tehran’s credibility than a European tour by Rouhani to promote business. In Vienna, Iran is demonstrating its flexibility in negotiations, something the West has been seeking for years.

Business opportunities will always be there, especially after the nuclear deal is implemented in mid-December, but being recognised as a legitimate player in the global political fray is even more important. Increased economic and political integration will give Iran options that it hasn’t had in more than a generation. Once the Syrian crisis is resolved, there could be even more opportunities.

Many Iranians are distraught about the state of the economy and worsening inflation, wondering how long it will take before they see any rewards from the nuclear deal. If Rouhani continues on track, the future is likely to be brighter.

Two major elections are scheduled next March, which gives Rouhani’s left-wing political allies some time to make progress on several issues. These include the crises in Syria and Iraq, achieving political stability in Iran, and implementing the nuclear deal. Success on these fronts would boost the economy and improve Rouhani’s chances for another term.

The key to success is progress on Syria, showing Iran as a trustworthy partner and showcasing Tehran’s skills in the international arena. If Iran plays its cards right in Vienna, the coming year may see the country emerge as a respected regional power.

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