Convergence of views between Iran, US can alter power balance in Middle East
Mohan Das Menon
Published: 20th October 2013 12:00 AM
Last Updated: 19th October 2013 02:22 PM
Is a new geo-strategic evaluation at work in Langley or within the White House on the issue of US relations with Iran? Is Tehran, which had adopted an uncompromising and belligerent attitude towards Washington over past 30 years, willing to change tack? Clear answers to these questions may not be easy at this stage. Yet, it is evident that US President Barack Obama’s phone call to President Hassan Rouhani on September 27 is sequentially in line with the ingrained spirit of his post-re-election message to Iranian leadership on certain vital areas, including Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy.
The nuclear issue is the most sensitive one at stake in the ambit of US-Iran ties. President Obama’s earlier Navroz message to Iranians on March 18 was a tiny step towards revisiting the strained relations between the two countries after the pro-US Shah of Iran was overthrown. The latest contacts between top political leadership of the two countries show that the US president now wants to move forward.
The road towards the cognisant ‘spirit of rapprochement’, which these initiatives have opened up, will not be easy. However, a consistent mode of exchanges between the both sides should be able to resolve the hurdles in the way. A premature termination of communication will be unfortunate not only for the two countries but the world at large.
Washington strategists across the board realise that Iran’s oil and gas reserves, among the largest in the world, cannot really be bottled up for good even through partisan sanctions, endorsed or not by the UN. For the first time after the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Obama has created a window of opportunity for Washington to correct a historically-oriented faultline in classic American diplomacy—its overt policy tilts towards the Sunni Muslim bloc of countries, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, the closest US ally in the “Muslim world”. This has made it overlook encroachments on human rights of Shia minority constituents. These do not engender the level of concern that real or perceived human rights violations in China often evoke or the attention that impoverished segments in India elicit on a regular basis in the media of the free world.
It remains to be seen whether the discourse of ongoing high-level interchanges between the US and Iran entails a softening up of the US attitude toward Syria. President Bashar al-Assad sustains his fragile leadership over his people largely due to support from Tehran and Moscow. If a US-led attack on Syria is off the roster for now, US-Iran rapprochement could proceed even faster than anyone can imagine. This could also lead to improvement in the US-Russia relations.
The visible stranglehold of anarchists and Islamic fundamentalists in the highly disturbed polities of Egypt, Syria, Libya and Somalia undeniably creates a higher degree of challenge for global institutions under the umbrella of the United Nations.
In the absence of their inability to intervene effectively, the US-led NATO forces have tried to fill the intervening power vacuum, as witnessed in Syria and Libya recently and Iraq and Afghanistan earlier. Unfortunately, this has only resulted in a sequential re-emergence of al-Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim terror derivative.
al-Qaeda has roared in Iraq since the US troops left in late 2011 and now looks stronger. The terror group has shown it is capable of carrying out mass-casualty attacks several times a month, driving the death toll in Iraq to the highest level in half a decade. It sees each attack as a way to cultivate an atmosphere of chaos that weakens the Shiite-led government’s authority. Recent prison breaks have bolstered al-Qaeda’s ranks, while feelings of Sunni marginalisation and the chaos caused by the civil war in neighbouring Syria are fuelling its comeback.
A convergence of views between Iran, a Shia epicentre in the Islamic world, and the US has the potential of altering the balance of power in the Middle East. So far, the US and its allies have preferred forging alliances with Sunni power centres such as Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The woeful saga of Muslim Brotherhood’s critical failure to sustain its power base in Egypt could have prompted Washington to explore the option of mending fences with Tehran. The domestic politics of the US political establishment, wherein Republican Party power blocs are mentored by well-entrenched Jewish financial lobbies, can also be a factor in reckoning.
Whatever the motivation, President Obama has set the cat among pigeons by initiating dialogue with Iran, after isolating the Shia-Islamic power for over 30 years. However, a more cogent analysis of the range of possibilities will be possible only after the Republican- triggered shutdown of the government gets resolved.
Optimism is a term seldom used when describing the prospect of a nuclear deal with Iran. But a new feel-good tone from Tehran toward the US and its Western allies since the election of President Rouhani has diplomats hoping that an agreement might be possible after a decade-long standoff.