The United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister was in Tehran last week and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will head to the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday during his regional tour. Zarif started with Kuwait and then traveled on to Oman. Following that, he will visit other Arab countries which have not yet been named.
On Sunday, Zarif said on his twitter account: “Our region is our priority,” right before leaving Tehran for Kuwait.
Iran’s tense relations with its Arab neighbors haven’t been hidden from anyone. Iran’s nuclear program as well as the support Iran has given to Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah, which is meddling in the Syrian conflict, are all major sources of concern for Arab states.
Their concerns were noticed and addressed by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when he flew directly from Geneva to the UAE to meet with his counterpart and briefed Emiratis on U.S. intentions vis-a-vis the negotiations with Iran.
Perhaps Iran’s neighbors wanted to have a greater role and have their voices heard on Iran’s nuclear deal. They wanted to hear what aims Iran has to solve its nuclear dispute which has led to regional tensions being exacerbated over the past 10 years.
Iranians have not yet addressed any of these questions directly. One hundred days have passed since Rowhani took office and now Zarif has embarked upon his first regional tour.
At this time, Iran is getting closer to Western countries, including the Unites States, and somehow managed to make a deal with P5+1 ( the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) to find a solution for its disputed nuclear file.
It sounds like the priority for the new administration in Iran was the nuclear file crisis and now that they have found more room to breathe by making the deal in Geneva last week, Iranian diplomats can pay attention to their neighbors.
Before Hassan Rowhani became president, during his presidential campaign, he oft repeated the urgent need to build a relationship with Saudi Arabia and said it should be the Iranian administration’s top priority.
Of course, the tension is not as high as it was months ago but nothing has significantly improved between Iran and the Gulf States.
Of course, the tension is not as high as it was months ago but nothing has significantly improved between Iran and the Gulf StatesCamelia Entekhabi-Fard
From Iran’s controversial nuclear program to the crisis in Syria and
Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon, all are sources of concern for major Arab countries and it is Zarif’s duty to deal with these concerns.
When Iran reached the deal in Geneva a week ago, many Arab scholars, writers and intellectuals raised the question of whether other regional issues had been discussed between the world powers and Iran.
Apparently this did not take place, simply because if the negotiations attempted to take into account the plethora of regional issues, a nuclear deal would never have been reached.
If the P5+1 negotiators wanted to address other matters and issues, Iran could not have acted so fast on the nuclear issue. To make things less complicated, the negotiating parties agreed on one thing; to just focus on the nuclear issue and leave the rest to future talks.
Perhaps Zarif’s diplomatic missions can be seen as an attempt to separate issues and deal with them on a case by case basis.
We have not heard, or been informed, if Iran has officially been invited to the Geneva II Syrian peace talks, scheduled for Jan. 22, 2014. However, the visible presence of the U.N. special envoy on Syrian matters, Lakhdar Brahimi, during the Iranian talks in Geneva suggests he was there to engage the Iranians on matters pertaining to Syria.
Zarif, and his deputies’, current trip to the Gulf region should not be seen as related to Iran’s nuclear program or the deal with the P5+1. Rather, perhaps Zarif’s visits are in preparation for an Iranian presence at the Geneva II talks.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard