Iran has to stop sponsoring terrorist militias first

Sunday 05/03/2017

I really pitied Hamid Abu Talibi, head of the office of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, when he tweeted about his boss’s Gulf tour: “Rohani’s regional initiative to accept the invitations of the Omani and Kuwaiti heads of state is a sign of the need to establish Islamic friendship relations and reviving regional relations. This regional initiative is an opportu­nity to be seized by our friends in the region because it will not come again. Seize the good opportu­nity.”

I pitied Abu Talibi for several rea­sons. The main one is that I find the small mullahs just as arrogant and conceited as the big ones. Like their teachers, the small mullahs lack diplomatic finesse and only know evil sectarian discourse.

The second reason is that Abu Talibi’s tweet reminded me of vendors trying very hard to sell an unpopular product in a depressed market. They tell potential custom­ers that their merchandise is the last of the stock and that this is the final chance to get it this cheap.

Can you imagine a diplomat, sup­posedly aware of the fast-changing and deeply complex strategic reali­ties surrounding him, referring to dialogue as a “once in a lifetime op­portunity” to be grabbed by others? The place for such language is the bazaar and not diplomacy. Skilful diplomacy opens doors and never shuts them or even hints at shutting them. Only vendors selling unsold bad-quality dead stock would use that kind of language.

I know that bazaar language is more often than not the language dominating Iranian foreign affairs. Iranian negotiators are very skilful at bidding their time, outmanoeu­vring their opponents and draining their energies. This is not surprising given Iran’s long heritage in carpet making and trading, which must have imprinted patience in the col­lective unconsciousness of Iranian society.

However, to hawk Rohani’s initia­tive in such an amateurish way is not going to make it attractive. The people charged with selling the product have really made a mess of the situation. Nobody is going to buy or even look at the merchan­dise.

I frankly cannot see this once in a lifetime offer mentioned by Abu Talibi. I don’t see how a simple mentioning by Rohani of a dialogue aiming at correcting some misun­derstandings in diplomatic relations between Iran and the Gulf countries would constitute an “opportunity”.

The opportunity in question must be a chance for further cheating and deception and a dialogue that starts with denying the heart of the prob­lem and source of all crises can only be a trick for a bigger masquerade.

If opportunity there is, it must be one for the mullahs to start rearranging their cards in light of the new international and regional strategic conditions. They must seize the opportunity to make wise choices that will spare the region and the Iranian people further crises.

In the Arabian Gulf, the real opportunity will be created when several factors come together. At the top of these is for Iran to stop sponsoring terrorist militias in the region. Iran must demonstrate a genuine intention to engage in a constructive dialogue without pre­conditions and around a carefully planned agenda focusing on spe­cific unsettled issues between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the Iranian regime.

The opportunity in question will arise when the mullahs finally recognise the sovereignty of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, when they stop reiterating their claims regarding Bahrain, when they return the three Emirati islands, when they change their behaviour in the region and when they make serious propos­als for peaceful coexistence in the Arabian Gulf.

Just a few days ago, we heard Turkey formally accuse Iran of sending refugees to battle fronts in Syria and Iraq and of endeavouring to destabilise the region. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has accused Iran of wanting to con­vert all of Syria and Iraq to the Shia sect. A few days before that, Turk­ish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of the dangers of “Persian nationalism”. These accusations by former allies cannot all be made up.

Iran has made many mistakes in its regional policies. The ideology of sectarian expansionism is, in the end, detrimental to Iran and Irani­ans. It must be abandoned in favour of peaceful coexistence. Otherwise, the mullahs run the risk of facing a fate similar to Saddam Hussein’s.

History teaches us that no regime can last when it treats its neighbours as enemies. Given the fast-changing geostrategic condi­tions regionally and internation­ally, the conceited mullahs, big and small, cannot go on for long using a patronising and condescending language and adopting a haughty Persian attitude.