Wednesday, 23 October, 2019

Rohani’s presidency may bring reconciliation between Iran and Persian Gulf countries

The presidency of Hassan Rohani has created an opportunity for a potential reconciliation between Iran and some of its Arab Persian Gulf neighbors, according to an article published on the website of Eurasia Review on Monday.

Following are excerpts of the text of the article, written by Kanchi Gupta:
The swearing-in of Hassan Rohani as the seventh president of the Islamic Republic of Iran has raised hopes of a productive engagement between Tehran and the West.
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Rohani’s emphasis on political moderation and ending Iran’s isolation are also drawing attention to the potential reconciliation between Tehran and some of its Arab (Persian) Gulf neighbors. Uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain, and the ongoing conflict in Syria have exacerbated sectarian sentiments and intensified the geostrategic struggle in the region.
Saudi Arabia and Iran, for instance… are supporting opposing forces (in Syria).
Iran’s relationship with Egypt too has been predominantly tumultuous, due to the differing responses to regional issues. The Iran-Iraq war, the Camp David accords, and more recently, the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have prevented relations between Tehran and Cairo from thawing. Now President Rohani has stressed the importance of improved ties with the Persian Gulf littoral states and Arab countries. What remains to be seen is whether he can translate this intent into reality.
Rohani was elected with almost 51 per cent of the votes, which amounted to a record-breaking 18.6 million votes. He had formerly served as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years. His campaign rested on the premise of the ‘path of moderation’, which he says neither means ‘deviating from principles’ and nor it imply ‘conservatism in the face of change and development’. In his inaugural speech, President Rohani stated that his policies would be oriented towards ‘constructive interaction with the world’ as long as the dialogue is based on ‘equal footing, confidence-building, mutual respect as well as a mutual reduction of antagonism and aggression’.
His stance towards the (Persian) Gulf States is conciliatory. In more than one public address, he has expressed the hope that other countries will recognize the mutual benefits of cooperation given the economic and political hardships the region is facing today. He specifically referred to Tehran’s desire to improve relations with… Saudi Arabia. He said Tehran has had ‘very close relations culturally, historically, and regionally’ with Saudi Arabia and therefore, there is considerable scope for closer ties. Morteza Bank, the deputy chief of Rohani’s election campaign, has also acknowledged that Saudi Arabia is the president’s top priority.
While President Rohani spoke about the political, economic, and strategic importance of warmer relations with the (Persian) Gulf States, he also made statements about ‘bringing warmongers under control’. He stated that ‘Iran seeks peace and stability in the region’ and does not wish to ‘change the demarcations and borders’ of any country in the region.
On the other hand, President Rohani made very clear references to Tehran’s stance on the Syrian stalemate. He said that the Syrian people themselves should resolve the Syrian issue and that Tehran is opposed to any foreign interference in Syria’s internal affairs.
Even though he has refrained from making statements about sectarianism in Syria, according to Mr. Bank, President Rohani believes that a political solution to the crisis must be based on resolving the sectarian dispute and the ‘two major religious groups… must play special roles in the future government’.
President Rohani’s apparent pragmatism has been boosted by endorsements from state leaders and supporters, as well as the presence of significant foreign dignitaries at his oath-taking ceremony. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia congratulated President Rohani on his election and lauded his ‘keenness to cooperate’. While Musaid bin Mohammed al-Ayban, a Saudi minister of state, was the official representative of the Kingdom at the ceremony, the prime minister of Syria, the Turkish foreign minister, Kuwait’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman were amongst the high-ranking dignitaries in attendance.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri-Al-Maliki extended congratulations to President Rohani over the phone and the vice-president, Khazir Al-Khazai, was in attendance at the oath-taking ceremony.
Although it was speculated that Khalid Omran, the head of Egyptian Interest Section, would attend the swearing-in, news reports suggest that Egypt was absent from the ceremony. The relations between Tehran and Cairo had begun to thaw as former President Ahmedinejad became the first Iranian President to visit Egypt since the 1979 revolution. His visit had been preceded by Mohammed Morsi’s visit to Iran last year, following which both countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations.
Even though Mr. Morsi’s government was strongly opposed to President Al-Assad’s (government) in Syria, Cairo and Tehran were engaged in talks to resolve the Syrian dispute. However, President Morsi’s ouster has caused a disruption in Iran-Egypt relations. Tehran has strongly condemned the ouster by referring to it as ‘improper’ and ‘unacceptable’.
Moreover, following a meeting between Turkish (Foreign) Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Rohani, Mr. Davutoglu disclosed that both leaders had discussed Egypt and agreed that for the crisis to end, ‘the release of Mr. Morsi and all other political leaders is of critical importance’.
President Rohani’s conciliatory approach to Iran’s foreign policy has thus far received a positive albeit wait-and-watch response from the neighboring States. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey have echoed his tone, but made no further advances especially towards resolving dead-lock issues like the conflict in Syria. Given the multiplicity of regional actors, their motivation to engage, negotiate, and concede will determine the course of relations in the (Persian) Gulf. Therefore, the success of President Rohani’s policies is now largely dependent on the space, opportunities and responses granted to him by his (Persian) Gulf counterparts.
Another obstruction in the path to change is the question of whether or not President Rohani is able to exert considerable influence over Iran’s foreign policy. Thus far, President Rohani appears to share a good relationship with (Iran’s Supreme Leader) Ayatollah Khamenei and may be able to ‘sway’ his opinions on certain issues. Of his relationship with the Supreme Leader, President Rohani has said, “Decisions on major foreign policy issues constitutionally require the support of the Supreme Leader…I am privileged to have a long experience of working closely with the Supreme Leader. I expect to receive the same support and trust from the Supreme Leader on initiatives and measures I adopt to advance our foreign policy agenda.”
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