A new US order in Mideast
A New US Order In Mideast. America’s close Arab friend Saudi Arabia is not happy over the deal, not for strategic reasons but over American tilt towards Saudis’ sworn enemy with whom the kingdom has differences as fundamental as ideology and Iran’s alleged export of radicalism.
America’s close Arab friend Saudi Arabia is not happy over the deal, not for strategic reasons but over American tilt towards Saudis’ sworn enemy with whom the kingdom has differences as fundamental as ideology and Iran’s alleged export of radicalism.
Five months after assuming office as the first black President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama delivered what was considered as a historic speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009. The essence of his speech was to bridge the gulf between the Islamic and Western civilizations. In his address, Obama had given the much-needed relief to the vilified Muslim society post-September 11, 2001 attacks on American symbols of power by offering it an olive branch with an assurance that bridges of friendship could be built with patience and a little understanding.
However, the most significant point that stood out in his path-breaking speech was policy on Iran. The sticking issue between Teheran and Washington was the former’s dogged pursuit of a nuclear programme which Iran touted as for peaceful purposes, meaning nuclear energy. Obama broke ranks with his predecessors, including George W Bush who had followed a hawkish Iranian policy like every other US President since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that brought mullahs to power, by softening his stand. Obama had stressed that in pursuance of his “no confrontation but cooperation policy” he had no misgivings about Iran’s nuclear plans as long as “it sticks to peaceful uses.” Obama also said Iran had the right to peaceful nuclear power.
Then the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezad, at the height of power – and arrogance – paid no heed to Obama and took the country on a perilous path with disastrous consequences. His anti-US rhetoric, threats of annihilating Israel, ambitious militarisation plans topped by nuclear programme which the West believed was for producing an atomic bomb, which invited crippling UN sanctions, had virtually decimated the Islamic Republic.
Four years later, moderate and pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani turned Obama’s olive branch a magic wand to reach out to the West in general and the US in particular. For the first time in the turbulent history of US-Iran relations, in 44 years, Teheran has turned a new leaf in ties with Washington by reaching a deal with the US and five other powers under which Iran will freeze its nuclear programme for six months and the US and its allies will lift nuclear-related sanctions and allow Iran access to frozen oil funds. The immediate short-term gain for Teheran is, apart from about $8 billion windfall, an end to its isolation. But the long-term prospects of the Geneva deal are more appealing to the world when the signatories conclude a permanent pact with Iran in the stipulated six-month timeframe that would see Teheran giving up its nuclear quest for good.
Should such an agreement materialise sometime next year, the global geo-political situation is set to change. It is a tectonic shift in power balance as the US will emerge as an undisputed superpower with its reach to every corner of the globe. First, the Middle East. Israel, in which the US has more trust than any other country in the region, has made no bones about its unhappiness. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spiked it, saying, “What was achieved in Geneva is not a historic agreement but rather a historic mistake.” However, Washington has dismissed his comment. Obviously, the US is trying to neutralise Iran, hoping to mollify Israel later.
America’s close Arab friend Saudi Arabia is not happy over the deal, not for strategic reasons but over American tilt towards Saudis’ sworn enemy with whom the kingdom has differences as fundamental as ideology and Iran’s alleged export of radicalism. More unpalatable is the Shia country’s challenge to Saudi monopoly over Islam’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Madinah. The Sunni majority Gulf Arab States have several unresolved issues with Iran such as territorial disputes, offshore oil and gas reserves, trade and more importantly alleged backing to Shia groups in the Gulf Cooperation Council States in fomenting trouble. Bahrain is the flash point. Ironically, all the Gulf States are strong supporters of the US and its perceived volte face has left the oil-rich sheikhdoms in the lurch. They have to reassess their strategy, if not now, at least later.
Second, lifting of sanctions, temporarily now and hopefully later after a permanent pact is signed, will help Iran normalise its ties, including trade, with other countries that are currently barred from doing business with Teheran. Once the curbs go, the two-way trade will resume and India will be one of the biggest beneficiaries. With reconstruction boom comes many opportunities for the Indian industry, including oil and gas companies, to go there in a big way and participate in the country’s modernization. Given the historic ties between the two countries, Indians have always had an edge over others. Other benefits include the revival of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and a fall in oil prices which could save India billions of dollars.
There is more to Iranian role in regional conflicts than meets the eye. In the South Asia region, Teheran has considerable influence on Kabul and Islamabad and the three countries are also bound by a tripartite treaty. When the US troops pull out of Afghanistan by next year end, pro-Iranian Afghan tribal leaders are expected to have more voice in their country’s affairs and Iran is likely to play a pivotal role. It will automatically become a key player in Afghan affairs and Teheran’s importance can’t be lost on India and Pakistan.
Similarly, Iran’s support to Hezbollah militant outfit in Lebanon, the Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip and Syrian President and his loyalists who have locked horns in Syrian civil war is crucial to their survival. In future, if the Rouhani regime in Teheran decides to play a positive role by reining in these forces, the history will take a new course.
Already, analysts are seeing a positive impact on the efforts to secure an accord on the Syrian crisis at the proposed Geneva II conference scheduled for January 22 next year. Though it is too early to pin hopes on the Iranian deal, it shows the kind of optimism it has generated in the world.
The euphoria can be justified only when Iran sheds its ambitious hyped-up nuclear programme and convince the world that it is entirely for peaceful purposes and its people the positive effects of détente with the US and its allies. If the country’s leadership, including the Supreme Council, fails to honour the commitments it has made in the Geneva deal, it is failing the Iranians.
On the other hand, it is self-gratification for the Obama administration in general and the President in particular for pulling off a sort of diplomatic coup after months of secret negotiations between the two sides in Oman. Four years after his historic reconciliation speech in Cairo, Obama’s efforts have paid off and the Iran nuclear deal can well become a turning point in history as it is going to change the contours of geo-political situation.