In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

A strike against Iranophobia-Arabs support Iran nuclear program, Putin supports Iran into SCO

Posted by seumasach on November 15, 2008

 

The multipolar world is no longer a theory or an aspiration: it is a reality  unfolding before our eyes.

Kaveh Afrasiabi

Eldib

On the eve of the United States presidential elections, a landmark visit to Tehran by the head of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been widely regarded in the Persian Gulf region as a major diplomatic overture toward Tehran by the US-backed oil sheikdoms.

Nearly one year after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s landmark attendance at the GCC summit in Doha in December 2007, where he proposed a “new chapter of cooperation” between Iran and the GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – the latter have finally set aside their various misgivings and decided to take up Ahmadinejad’s proposals on economic, political and security domains.

“We are proposing the conclusion of a security agreement,” Ahmadinejad announced in Doha and this has now been echoed by the GCC’s secretary general Abdurrahman bin Hammad al-Attiyah, who told the reporters in Tehran that “Ahmadinejad’s proposals on security issues are also practical and some working committees are working on them”.

A timely diplomatic boon for Iran, al-Attiyah’s visit is also a good omen for the embattled Iran-backed regime in Iraq that, until now, has been shunned by the GCC trade bloc, a position that is no longer viable in light of the growing political stability of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government, which has now put the accent on the departure of foreign forces from Iraq as a precondition for signing a US-Iraq security pact. Also, Maliki has announced that he will be sending the draft agreement on this pact to Iraq’s neighbors for review, confirming this author’s earlier prediction that this subject is not simply an internal Iraqi issue, but rather a regional one 1 .

In the aftermath of the US’s ill-advised raid inside Syria last month, causing a serious downturn in Syria-US relations, the Arab world, including the GCC oil states, are in a new assertive mood to stand up to the US’s perceived arrogant and destabilizing moves, including with respect to Iran.

Thus, whereas previously the GCC had expressed concerns about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, as a result of Iran’s nuclear transparency and twin diplomatic efforts, the GCC states are today fairly comfortable with Iran’s nuclear program and are no longer sold to the Washington and Tel Aviv-led “Iranophobia”.

“We support Iran’s nuclear program, which is completely peaceful,” al-Attiyah categorically stated, adding that he was “surprised” that the world had turned a blind eye to Israel’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.

So much for the George W Bush administration’s strategy of Middle East alliance politics by forging the region’s “moderates” versus the “rogue” states led by Iran and Syria, or of wresting Syria away from Iran. None of that strategy has worked and, as a result, a brand new Middle East strategy by the next US president is called for.

Should that be Democratic Senator Barack Obama, then the old pro-Israel hands, like veteran diplomat Dennis Ross, who is advising Obama on the Middle East and has crafted an Iran policy that is bereft of any novelty, will not preclude a real change in the US’s Middle East policy. Ross and almost all the other foreign policy advisors surrounding Obama are unanimously sold to the “grave threat” of a “nuclear-armed Iran” and, thus, it must come as a shocking surprise to them that Iran’s Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf do not share this threat perception.

With respect to the future of Iran-GCC relations, much like the earlier Tehran visit of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in August, al-Attiyah focused primarily on expanding economic cooperation with Iran, as a precondition for broader cooperation. Already Iran’s free trade with some GCC states, such as the United Arab Emirates, is thriving and the focus is now on taking this to the next level by laying the foundations for regional free trade.

Clearly, the GCC states are impressed by Iran’s other regional efforts, such as with respect to cooperating with the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has inducted Iran as an observer, although last week Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Iran’s First Vice President Parviz Davoodi that Russia embraced the idea of Iran’s full membership, as well as with respect to the Economic Cooperation Organization. 2

The demonstration effect of such regional stability efforts by Iran was bound to impact the GCC’s behavior toward Iran sooner or later. Now, after much ebb and flow in that behavior, the GCC states have come to a firm new conclusion about the need to forge more organic relations with their assertive Iranian neighbor, with most, if not all, the GCC leaders perhaps guardedly concurring with Putin’s statement that a “powerful Iran is beneficial to the region”.

Internally, the noticeable improvement in Iran’s relations with the GCC states cited above will be considered a timely plus for Ahmadinejad and his visions and programs for Iran’s external relations, thus contributing to his likely bid for re-election next summer. Combining power and flexibility, Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy may have been too controversial or even confrontational at times, but after the taboo of direct dialogue with the US was broken by him he has done much to fill the unfortunate vacuum of Third World leadership at a critical moment in global politics.

No wonder other assertive leaders of the developing nations have embraced Ahmadinejad, and that includes Brazil’s populist leader Luda de Silva, who is due in Tehran shortly for a much-anticipated Iran-Brazil summit.

All the same, the economy remains the number one concern of Iran’s voters, as is the case with US voters today and the big question is if Ahmadinejad will be able to telescope the diplomatic breakthrough with the GCC states into meaningful economic benefits, given the US’s intention to tighten sanctions on Iran?

Fortunately for Iran, the legitimacy of sanctions on it have been much eroded due to Iran’s cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the important visit of the GCC’s secretary general alone is indication of a failing sanctions regime.

Notes
1. See interview with Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Former Adviser to Iran’s Nuclear Negotiating TeamCross-Border Attack on Syria Raises Iranian Eyebrows Council on Foreign Relations, October 30, 2008.
2. For more on ECO, see http://www.ecosecretariat.org.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction. For his Wikipedia entry, click here. His latest book, Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) is now available.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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