Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Ambiguous signals from Iran

Does Iran want greater regional cooperation or is it trapped in a mentality of conspiracy theories and confrontation, asks Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

Regional security is important for Iran, but the country seems to be having trouble setting goals and managing cooperation in a way that does not hurt its authority and status.

Conspiracy theories also form a major part of the mentality of the ruling system in Iran, and “enemy” is one of the most heard words in public speeches by officials, particularly Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Meanwhile, Syria has been turned upside down, and terrorism is spreading its seeds all over the world from the country. The regional crisis is dangerous for Iran’s national security even if it stays unharmed, but Iran’s direct involvement in the conflicts in the region makes it vulnerable too.

Evidence of interest in regional cooperation in Iran was laid out recently in comments Khamenei posted on his Twitter account on 8 August, when he wrote that the “solution of regional issues is unity of Muslim nations and Muslim states and resistance against the arrogance and goals of the US and some Europeans.”

Khamenei seemed to be asking for unity in the Muslim world, but the question remains of who can trust Iran when its behaviour is not unifying. With no diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, a major Muslim nation that is the West’s partner in security and fighting terrorism, commentators have been asking what Khamenei could have had in mind when he called for unity among Muslim nations.

Unity can only come when the countries of the Muslim world trust each other and do not compete with one another over regional power or exporting influence into each other’s territory.

Iran has reached the point of calculating the strategic cost versus the benefits to its interests and national security of its current Syria policy and whether it should pivot its resources to participating in the global fight against terrorism. This looks like becoming a major debate among political leaders in Tehran.

One western diplomat speaking off the record at the United Nations in New York said Iran was held in suspicion by all the countries in the region.

“Even Israel no longer has issues with the Iran nuclear deal. No one is ready to dismiss the deal or cheat on the deal with Iran, no matter who is the next president of the US or what happens in Syria. Now it’s up to them to shuffle their diplomacy to make the best out of the opportunity that has been given them,” he said, referring to Iran’s need to build bridges in the region.

But rather than making the best out of the nuclear deal, Iran seems to be throwing stones on the path and taking regional cooperation hostage. Knowing that Iran is essential to the Syria peace talks, the country seems to have decided to push the US into boosting the deal as a bargaining chip to use in regional talks.

The recent news that the United States had apparently paid Iran $400 million to release Iranian-Americans from prison in Iran could be part of this propaganda. US President Barack Obama said the United States “never paid” ransom to any groups and governments to release its citizens in response, however.

The money apparently belonged to Iran and was part of a large amount that has been blocked in the US since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 when the late shah paid it as part of a weapons contract. Upon the nuclear deal and the agreement by which Iran released four Americans from prison, the money was transferred to Tehran.

The arrangement, leaked to the media, has caused problems for the Democrats in the US Congress at a time when the US presidential elections are due in some 100 days. 

Six months ago Iranian state TV gave details of the proposed money transfer, saying that if the details were revealed they could influence the US presidential elections. Such manipulation may have been planned by figures in Iran unhappy about the nuclear accord. However, this kind of manipulation is a double-edged sword and can cut both ways.

In the meantime, the international community has been trying to build positive diplomatic relations with Iran, notably between Iran and its neighbours that could lead to joint anti-terror efforts.

Such a policy would be welcomed by everyone and at the same time would make the path smoother for economic cooperation and the implementation of the nuclear deal.

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