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    Middle East
     May 16, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Iran courts the US at Russia's expense
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Iran's relations with the Arab world have taken a dramatic turn for the better, in light of Iran's overtures toward the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, as well as in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's announcement that Iran is prepared to resume full diplomatic relations with Egypt.

That announcement was made on Monday as Ahmadinejad visited the United Arab Emirates and received a rousing official welcome. Widely interpreted as Iran's timely response to US Vice

President Dick Cheney's tour of the region and his warning that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or to dominate the region, Ahmadinejad's arrival in Dubai coincided with an Iranian olive branch toward not only Egypt but also the US. This is illustrated by Tehran's announcement that it has accepted the United States' invitation for direct talks between American and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad.

"Iran's foreign policy is moving in the direction of constructive engagement on all fronts," a member of Iran's parliament, the Majlis, announced, adding that the resumption of relations with Egypt will have "positive effects on the whole region".

It is now up to Egypt to bury the hatchet and respond to Ahmadinejad's significant policy announcement. According to some Tehran political analysts, however, there are some voices within the Egyptian government who prefer the status quo, whereby Egypt can capitalize on foreign assistance as a result of its role as a counterweight to Iran, given the growing reliance of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on "out of area" Egypt.

On the other hand, Iran's GCC policy, of pushing the arch of the common or collective security arrangement by all the Gulf states based on the principle of self-reliance, undermines Egypt's attempt to insert itself in the region's security calculus. Similarly, the US is disquieted by official GCC pronouncements that echo Iran's call for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the region.

Should Iran remain consistent on the present pattern of regional policy and succeed in helping with the security nightmare in Iraq, then the US/Israeli policy of creating a Sunni-led anti-Iran alliance in the Arab world would vanish into thin air. The process of confidence-building between Iran and the GCC states, which are in dispute with Iran over the three islands of Abu Moussa and Little and Big Tunb, is a long one, however, and Tehran must be careful not send any "mixed signals" that would eradicate the present gains. The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Dialogue with the US and Iran's new realism
Reflecting a new level of sophistication and diplomatic prowess, Iran's latest moves show that it has not been unreceptive of earlier criticisms at home and abroad about the deleterious impact of a one-dimensional foreign policy. Steadily moving up the learning curve, the Ahmadinejad administration may also have a freer hand to set policy within Iran's complex, concentric circles of power.

One thing is becoming clear: Iran's nuclear and non-nuclear, ie regional and security, policies are gelling together, and that is a definite step forward and a sign of qualitative improvement.

Doubtless, that does not mean that all is well on the foreign-policy front, given the meetings of the United Nations Security Council's permanent five plus Germany plotting tougher sanctions against Iran, perhaps as early as next month, in response to Iran's defiance of UN resolutions calling for the suspension of uranium-enrichment activities.

At a recent meeting in Vienna on the future of the non-proliferation regime, after much haggling, Iran finally managed to create a cognitive "group think" with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), consisting of some 118 countries. This was by watering down a final statement that weakens calls for tighter norms under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, particularly regarding non-proliferation and access to nuclear technology. A mere week ago there was a threat of a dangerous rift between Iran and NAM countries, so this is a major foreign-policy plus for Iran that strengthens Tehran's hand as it prepares to meet the US face-to-face in two weeks.

In the context of this coming US-Iran dialogue, both sides need to agree on a limited agenda that does not extend to trans-Iraq, eg nuclear, issues, and an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson has made this point abundantly clear. Yet even an incremental improvement in the hostile climate between the US and Iran is bound to have ripple effects on the other issues. And, vice versa, a premature UN move to toughen sanctions on Iran could torpedo the diplomatic engagement on Iraq.

There is an "indirect linkage between the issues that forms the background to the meeting in Baghdad" between US and Iranian 

Continued 1 2 

Iran rises to its missile defense (May 9, '07)

In the trenches of the new cold war (Apr 28, '07)


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