The most important stop on Iran’s regional tour

Ever since the Geneva agreement was sealed, Iran has focused on improving relations with their Arab neighbors

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
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Last Wednesday was a day full of diplomatic activity for Iran. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited the United Arab Emirates, Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki was in Tehran while Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh was in Vienna. Ever since the Geneva agreement was sealed between Iran and the P5+1 group, Iranian foreign affairs policymakers have focused on improving relations with their Arab neighbors.

In this context, Zarif visited countries in the region, beginning with Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. He finished off by visiting the UAE on Wednesday. Zarif’s visit to the UAE. may have been the most important stop on his tour. It’s worth noting that the extent of commerce between Iran and the UAE reached rates as high as $18 billion before sanctions were imposed on Iran’s economy.

Now that sanctions will be lifted in the near future, Iran needs to prepare itself to resume its commercial activity with its neighbors and to, of course, resume trading in the international oil market.

This cannot be achieved without the Arab Gulf countries’ support and without their belief in Iran’s real aims, and Iran is very well-aware of that.

The timing of Zarif’s visit to Saudi Arabia is still not clear considering the dispute between the two countries seems more contentious than disputes between Iran and other regional countries

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

While meeting with Iranian residents in the UAE, Zarif emphasized that the reason he was visiting the region right after the Geneva talks is to announce to all regional friends that “the calm situation in our country [means] a calm situation in your country [as] our security [serves] your security.”

Therefore, Zarif and his team are making a lot of effort to warm relations with Arab Gulf countries. This is particularly the case with Saudi Arabia as relations with the kingdom deteriorated due to Iran’s nuclear program and due to the crises in Syria, Bahrain and Iraq

Zarif said that Iran is seeking reconciliation with Saudi Arabia, confirming that Iran did not represent a threat to any country in the region. The Iranian state news agency quoted Zarif as saying: “We [think] that it’s a must for Iran and Saudi Arabia to work together to strengthen peace and stability in the region. This [nuclear agreement] cannot be at the expanse of any country in the region.”

Warming relations

The UAE welcomed the nuclear agreement with Iran and Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan accepted Iranian President Hassan Rowhani’s invitation to visit Iran along with Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum. This will be the first visit a UAE president makes to Iran since the eruption of the revolution. Despite that, the timing of Zarif’s visit to Saudi Arabia is still not clear considering the dispute between the two countries seems more contentious than disputes between Iran and other regional countries.

On Wednesday morning, and before Zarif arrived in the UAE, Hassan Nasrallah, chief of the armed militia of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has strong ties with Iran, blamed Saudi Arabia for the bloody explosion which occurred on Nov. 28 in front of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. This explosion killed 25 people, including the Iranian cultural attaché, and injured over 150 people. Saudi Arabia has condemned the explosion, and a Sunni group linked to al-Qaeda organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. Iranian officials did not respond to Nasrallah’s accusation against Saudi Arabia and Nasrallah’s accusation did not influence Zarif’s initiative to repeat his desire to visit Saudi Arabia.

There’s some politeness regarding Nasrallah’s accusation which reminds those involved of the allegation of Iran’s conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi envoy in the U.S. in 2011. Manssor Arbabsiar, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, pleaded guilty to involvement in plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., adding that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force were also involved in the plot.

Iran denied its involvement. Keep in mind that in a country where the revolutionary guards enjoy a large jurisdiction, it’s difficult to conduct any investigations linked to high-ranking officials or to bring them to justice. Hezbollah’s accusation against Saudi Arabia was made on the day when Zarif was set to arrive in the UAE, and the accusation was void of facts or evidence. Hezbollah’s real aim behind making this accusation is thus suspicious. It seems as if there are extremist groups - inside and outside Iran - which are unhappy and scared of Iran’s new foreign policy as they see it as a threat to their interests. If it’s possible for this policy to continue, and if Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supports it, then we will witness the rise of a new Iran. In this case, extremists in Iran will not be the only ones confronting Iran’s new diplomacy as Iran may confront the possibility of a threat emanating from people it’s been good to.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 7, 2013.


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

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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