Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Iran shows willing

Iran showed itself ready to cooperate with regional oil-producers at last week’s OPEC meeting, also opening prospects for political cooperation

Iran  shows willing
Iran shows willing

Talking and working with Americans is no longer taboo in Iran, as Iranians set out on a path to improve their economy, understanding that in order to do so they must not mess up on the Iran nuclear deal with the West.

“We don’t have any problem having American companies in Iran and participating in our oil and gas projects. They are limited by their own country, however, and we are aware of that,” Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Zangeneh told reporters on the sidelines of the OPEC meeting in Vienna on 25 May.

It is not a problem working with the Americans and not a problem working with the Saudis either, even though these days the tension is high between these two important Muslim nations. The ministerial meeting of the oil cartel OPEC showed that business can always make exceptions, however, as OPEC struck a deal to extend its restriction of 1.8 million barrels of oil a day, first agreed last November, for another nine months into 2018.

The decision was mainly taken to confront US shale oil producers, who are seen as a major threat to the future of the oil-producers. Despite other disagreements on political issues, all OPEC and non-OPEC members united behind a strategy that serves all of their interests.

Despite the provocative trip of US President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia that centred on the alleged threat posed by Iran, in Iran itself the mood is very positive towards the US and regional cooperation.

Trump extended the suspension of the sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme for another three months on 18 May in a positive sign that has allowed foreign investors such as the oil company Total to enter into the final process of signing a deal with Iran’s Petroleum Ministry.

In Iran, newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani dismissed taking sides on the US-Saudi Summit at his first press encounter since his re-election. He called the speeches made in Riyadh “just talk” and said that he would wait to see what policy the US adopted in the Middle East and respond accordingly.

None of the presidential candidates during the election campaign said much about Iran’s foreign policy or relations with the US. This was a cautious move on the part of all six candidates and was probably made in order to decrease any possible tension with the US.

Ignoring what the Saudi king said about Iran at the Riyadh Summit, Rouhani in a phone conversation with the emir of Qatar on 27 May said Iran was ready for peace talks with the Arab nations.

Rouhani’s website quoted him as saying in a phone conversation with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar that the Muslim world was beset by divisions and should take steps “towards peace and brotherhood”.

Iran’s political leaders, seeing the recent re-election of Rouhani with a firm majority, are likely to re-energise their commitment to engagement with the West and the Gulf states in order to find multilateral solutions to complex regional problems, including Syria.

Among journalists covering the Iran nuclear talks, rumours have been spreading that there will soon be non-nuclear sanctions talks with the US. This underscores the need for Iran to continue to build economic and business relationships in the region, such that there are more avenues for constructive cooperation should tempers flare in the future.

The potential gains from economic relationships with the Gulf and other OPEC countries far outweigh the benefits of Iran’s militaristic stance towards the region. While no one expects Iran to unilaterally disarm, the OPEC episode underscores how the business world can act as a basis for progress in other areas.

What the regional countries are looking for is to see Iran demonstrate this sort of practicality in its political dealings with the Gulf countries, allowing it to build trust with the Gulf states and pursue a path towards cooperation and détente.

One of the OPEC members from the region said off the record at the recent meeting that “Iran needs to demonstrate now, more than ever before, its commitment to working together to combat the common threat that the Islamic State and other terrorist groups pose, with this being as important as making decisions at OPEC meetings to regulate the oil market.”

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