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Obama visit shouldn’t be allowed to benefit Iran

“Reassuring” Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations about Iran’s increasing presence is on the top of Obama’s agenda visiting Saudi Arabia

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

President Obama met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to project that the US is ready for a joint action on regional security threats including Iran and ISIS. The White House said in a statement: “The two leaders reaffirmed the historic friendship and deep strategic partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia...More broadly, the President and King discussed the challenges posed by Iran’s provocative activities in the region, agreeing on the importance of an inclusive approach to de-escalating regional conflicts”.

“Reassuring” Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations about Iran’s increasing presence is on the top of Obama’s agenda visiting Saudi Arabia.

Aside from the rhetoric, it is crucial to point out the Barack Obama’s administration is going to tilt toward Iran behind closed doors, as it has done since the nuclear negotiations were initiated several years ago. The White House statement is mostly a collection of words, rather than actions, aimed at showing that President Obama has succeeded at maintaining the balance between Saudi Arabia and other countries.

This is not the first time that President Obama is attempting to reassure Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region about Iran’s behavior. In order to sell his nuclear deal to Middle Eastern countries, Obama made every country in the region believe that the nuclear deal is not going to endanger the security, stability, and national interests of gulf nations. His efforts were convincing as several countries including Saudi Arabia were happy about Obama’s assurances.

Déjà Vu: Collections of words

The previous reassurances to sell his nuclear deal were a collections of words rather than actions, as Iran’s aggressive, interventionist, militaristic and provocative policies and actions have currently reached an unprecedented level while, in every case, Obama’s administration has shown a green light to Tehran, justified Iran’s actions, or minimized Iran’s militaristic behaviors and destabilizing threats.

The current promises are also déjà vu. With his visit, Obama is attempting to preserve his nuclear deal with Iran, keep his alliance with Saudi Arabia while removing the possibility of gulf nations taking collective action against Iran. This is not a balancing act between Iran and other nations as the mainstream media contend, but it is a clear tilt towards Tehran.

Iranian leaders are cognizant that Obama’s visit is going to soothe other countries’ concerns about Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions and will minimize the perception of Iran’s aggressive and interventionist behavior

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

In the last few months, every action from Iran - which breached United Nations Security Council resolutions (such as the launching of ballistic missiles), violated the international norms (such as the burning of Saudi embassy), or imperiled the security of Gulf nations (such as showing off about the delivery S-300, sending more arms to the Houthis, financing and training more Shiite militias to fight in the region, publicly supporting Bashar al-Assad, and employing Hezbollah to exacerbate sectarian conflicts)- were all either ignored by the Obama administration, or justified by the White House arguing that Iranian leaders were taking actions to address those issues.

But on the other hand, the White House has been very quick and forceful in condemning and criticizing other countries in the region for taking the matters into their own hands and confronting Iran or its proxies; the Shiite militias.

How will Iran benefit?

Obama’s visit is not only going to fail to reduce Iran’s growing militaristic influence in the region, but it will benefit Iran by giving the Iranian leaders more room to maneuver in the region.

First of all, Iranian leaders are cognizant that Obama’s visit is going to soothe other countries’ concerns about Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions, it will minimize the perception of Iran’s aggressive and interventionist behavior, and it will eliminate the possibility of Gulf nations coalescing to confront Iran’s threat independent of the US.

It follows that those who have the final say in Iran’s foreign policy- the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei and senior officials of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - will continue to build their military empire, reach their ideological objectives, and pursue their agenda for superiority and regional pre-eminence, all while they have less concerns of any regional reaction due to “Obama’s reassurance”.

Secondly, Iranian leaders are cognizant of the fact that they have confined the Obama administration with the nuclear deal.

Gulf nations counterbalance

An Iranian diplomat once told me that President Obama is trying “to have the date and the donkey”, a Persian proverb, which means that Obama is attempting “to have the cake and eat it too”; or, to have both Iran and Saudi Arabia. But he argued that, at the end of the day, Obama will choose Iran because he is dedicated to preserving his legacy, the nuclear pact.

In order to preserve the nuclear deal, President Obama will continue with his appeasement policies towards the Islamic Republic, ignore their aggression and interventions in the region, give them more carrots so they do not pull out of the nuclear deal, as well as minimize and brush-off the IRGC’s threat.

In other words, from the perspective of Iranian leaders, Obama’s visit is absolutely beneficial for Iran’s interests because this visit will be nothing but a collection of words and it will alleviate the concerns of the nations in the region about the IRGC's belligérant actions. In reality, the Islamic republic will find it much easier to ratchet up its militaristic agenda. We should also remember that over the last three decades, regardless of US rhetoric, or military threats, Khamenei and the IRGC did not abandon their ideological objectives, as well as their pursuit for superiority and regional pre-eminence.

In fact, if we look at the latest developments in Iran ahead of Obama’s visit, the Islamic Republic is not only not restraining its provocative behavior in the region, but is also showing off its military power, deploying more hard power, and more forcefully drawing red lines for other countries in regards with Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen.

Even President Rowhani, the so-called moderate, has credited Iran’s economic, technological and scientific advancements after the nuclear deal to the IRGC’s increasing influence in the region. Rowhani pointed out that "Had it not been for the mighty army, it would have been impossible to achieve this”.

In closing, Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia will benefit Iran geopolitically, strategically and economically. Iran is aware that Obama’s cosmetic “reassurances” to the gulf nations- that everything is going to be fine- will grant the IRGC and Khamenei more room to maneuver, increase their influence in the region and let them pursue their hegemonic ambitions.

This is due to the notion that Obama’s reassurances will prevent other countries in the region from taking serious and collective action against Iran (which is Iran’s major concern), while Obama’s reassurances is releasing Iran to do what it desires without any fear of regional or global repercussions.

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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and Harvard University scholar, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at Dr.rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu, @Dr_Rafizadeh.

This article is part of Al Arabiya English’s Special Coverage on Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia

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