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Geopolitics of Iran Talks  - Asia/Pacific

Geopolitics of Iran Talks

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

When Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in 2013 the P5+1 reckoned that in him they would find a leader less intractable and more open to negotiation than Ahmadinejad. But after the latest talks in Switzerland, in March, most western analysts seem to be skeptical about the outcome of any agreement. They worry that with sanctions lifted Iran will come out richer and stronger, will be in a position to make the Middle East more hostile to the US and because Iran will be open to inspectors only to in a limited manner and is unreliable, it would still be retaining the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

On the other hand Javad Zarif and the Iranian media have shown jubilation over the March talks. And as the June 30 deadline has approached and will probably be extended, the Iranian side seems non-compliant and more aggressive unlike Obama’s administration, being seen on the back foot.

Before the talks even ended in March, Iran was tested in Yemen - is Iran ready to surrender its off-border influence in Shia majority regions around the world – will it give-up aiding the Houthis? Another  interesting thing about lifting the sanctions is whether Iran will comply to the P5+1 thinking of opening the doors of Iranian oil, with second-largest proved crude oil reserves in the Middle East, to their own backyards or will Iran expand its trade with partners of its own choice.

By the looks of it, it does not seem that Iran is ready to soften its stance on Yemen, only the next day back from Switzerland, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Pakistan, pushing them for peace talks on the Yemen crisis. On the same day Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the Saudi attack on Yemen, saying "this is a crime, genocide and legally pursuable", warning that "the Saudis will lose" and that "Yemenis will resist and will win". The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the attacks ‘a mistake asking for a cease-fire and broad-based talks for resolving the crisis. This was shown when in April, Iranian Oil Company representatives met with Chinese oil importer Sinopec and state-run oil trader ZhenRong for talks on more oil sales to China that had been reduce after the 2011 sanctions on Iran. Later, Russia has announced ending its self-imposed ban on delivering S-300 anti-missile rockets to Iran that had been stopped in 2010 under pressure from the West plus an oil-for-goods barter agreement.

Conversely the Saudis who have by-far military superiority over Yemen have had to face a ‘coalition of the un-willing’ with Pakistan and Turkey showing signs of reservations over partaking in direct combat alongside the Saudis. With the Parliament in Pakistan bent on ‘neutrality and Erdogan visiting Tehran saying “we must come together, sit, talk, negotiate the matter and put an end to this bloodshed, these deaths”, both countries seem to be not very clear on their long held relations with Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps one way to understand the Iran Talks is by categorizing interests into big/small and short-termed/long-termed. If for instance we put the Saudi/Yemen clash into the category ‘small’, of sub-regional interest of the Saudis, making it a test case for the Saudis to judge the strength of their alliances in the wake of the Iran Talks, which is a ‘big’ interest having the potential to change US/Iran relations and thus of redirecting the whole regional balance – the we see two things happening to the Saudis.

One, it would litmus test for the Saudis if the US still wants it as a major ally in Middle East or if it wants to balance relations with the Iranians too. This is ‘big’ in light of the Iraq/Syria scenario, which has been generally un-yielding to the US interests till now, perhaps forcing the US to consider that it may be cheaper to patronize the adamant Shi’ite kingpin instead of constantly wrestling with it across the wall. In that case perhaps it would be profitable for the US to pose a looser in the nuclear issue with Iran if Iran agrees to freeze the Russia/Iran conduit of arms and funds to the Crescent – if that happens US, Saudis and Israel would all be happy. 

Second, the Yemen War will strengthen or weaken the Sunni Alliance around the Saudis, an alliance long sought for by majority Muslims. While it may be a ‘small’ interest for the Muslim states to conjoin with the Saudis on Yemen, which itself is a Sunni majority state, and is hurting the Sunni-ego in the populations, it would be a ‘big’ interest for the US ‘not’ to let this coalition succeed, as it will potentially be a renaissance of the Sunni world and a precedence to taking matters in their own hand in future. In that case it would be fatal for the US and its allies to allow any success via a coalition, but in the same time in a smaller interest, securing the Bab e Mandeb and Aden from the non-compliant Houthis is vital for their economy.

So it is correct for the skeptics to note that it was at the Saudi Embassy in Washington that the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, announced the airstrikes campaign on Yemen and that the France Foreign Minister Fabius arrived in Saudi Arabia to say, ‘Of course France stands beside its partners in the region to restore stability in Yemen’, yet these allies of the Saudis would rather do the job for the Saudis by covert means they specialize in, then to have a coalition of Muslim states to be made.

Now from the Iranian viewing, they are indeed in an intricate situation – on the one hand unwilling to let go of the Shi’ite Crescent and their Russian alliance and on the other willing to recur their economic interests. But the question that the Iranians might be asking themselves is whether it’s their economy that is in the worst condition or the economy of their rivals, the US and its European allies. And are their opponents more desperate then themselves for newer economies. In that case it would be a matter of who-snaps-out-first, and perhaps Iran would be better off with a smaller economy and a bigger ally-neighborhood in the long term. Perhaps that is the reason why Javad Sharif poses so strong in the Iran Talks, he enters the Talks with a pre-conclusion that Iran will not give up anything significant to its interests in the region and that Iran has no problem waiting for the right time. But ‘time’ may be the inevitable reality for the US.

It seems that for the US and its allies the best scenario is to somehow keep intact the political status quo in which they are the superpowers and by somehow maneuvering the economic equation in a way that all goodies are syphoned to their states with least compensations, a way of life they are comfortably adjusted to. With the US government accumulating trillions of dollars upon its debt every year and collapse looming over the EU with Greece and Cyprus ready to jump off the EU boat, it is vital to move the economic equation and perhaps by giving Iran some air the US is trying to find ways out for itself.

On June 13, Hassan Rouhani, referring to the IAEA’s provision for allowing more intrusive inspections in Iran, said in a televised news conference, "Iran will absolutely not allow its national secrets to fall into the hands of foreigners through the Additional Protocol or any other means".

While the Russian chief delegate to the negotiations Sergey Ryabkov has said that the "the rate of progress ... is progressively slowing down", Israel is also giving tough time to Obama and his team, AIPAC is criticizing every move they make and are insisting for a full Go-anywhere/ anytime inspection.

So the June 30 deadline, a potential game-changer, will tell how strong the world community is in resolving its issues on the table. For the US and its Allies the dream solution would be that Iran should fall in its camp, which would further isolate Russia, put the whole Shia world to its knees and allow the NATO partners to form governments in the Middle East that are willing to ensure their interests – securing another American unipolar century. Or else – maybe its war.