A strike against 'Iranophobia'
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
On the eve of the United States presidential elections, a landmark visit to
Tehran by the head of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been widely regarded
in the Persian Gulf region as a major diplomatic overture toward Tehran by the
US-backed oil sheikdoms.
Nearly one year after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's landmark attendance at the
GCC summit in Doha in December 2007, where he proposed a "new chapter of
cooperation" between Iran and the GCC states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar,
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - the latter have finally set aside
their various misgivings and decided to take up Ahmadinejad's
proposals on economic, political and security domains.
"We are proposing the conclusion of a security agreement," Ahmadinejad
announced in Doha and this has now been echoed by the GCC's secretary general
Abdurrahman bin Hammad al-Attiyah, who told the reporters in Tehran that
"Ahmadinejad's proposals on security issues are also practical and some working
committees are working on them".
A timely diplomatic boon for Iran, al-Attiyah's visit is also a good omen for
the embattled Iran-backed regime in Iraq that, until now, has been shunned by
the GCC trade bloc, a position that is no longer viable in light of the growing
political stability of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, which has
now put the accent on the departure of foreign forces from Iraq as a
precondition for signing a US-Iraq security pact. Also, Maliki has announced
that he will be sending the draft agreement on this pact to Iraq's neighbors
for review, confirming this author's earlier prediction that this subject is
not simply an internal Iraqi issue, but rather a regional one  .
In the aftermath of the US's ill-advised raid inside Syria last month,
causing a serious downturn in Syria-US relations, the Arab world, including the
GCC oil states, are in a new assertive mood to stand up to the US's perceived
arrogant and destabilizing moves, including with respect to Iran.
Thus, whereas previously the GCC had expressed concerns about the nature of
Iran's nuclear program, as a result of Iran's nuclear transparency and twin
diplomatic efforts, the GCC states are today fairly comfortable with Iran's
nuclear program and are no longer sold to the Washington and Tel Aviv-led
"We support Iran's nuclear program, which is completely peaceful," al-Attiyah
categorically stated, adding that he was "surprised" that the world had turned
a blind eye to Israel's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
So much for the George W Bush administration's strategy of Middle East alliance
politics by forging the region's "moderates" versus the "rogue" states led by
Iran and Syria, or of wresting Syria away from Iran. None of that strategy has
worked and, as a result, a brand new Middle East strategy by the next US
president is called for.
Should that be Democratic Senator Barack Obama, then the old pro-Israel hands,
like veteran diplomat Dennis Ross, who is advising Obama on the Middle East and
has crafted an Iran policy that is bereft of any novelty, will not preclude a
real change in the US's Middle East policy. Ross and almost all the other
foreign policy advisors surrounding Obama are unanimously sold to the "grave
threat" of a "nuclear-armed Iran" and, thus, it must come as a shocking
surprise to them that Iran's Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf do not share
this threat perception.
With respect to the future of Iran-GCC relations, much like the earlier Tehran
visit of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in August, al-Attiyah
focused primarily on expanding economic cooperation with Iran, as a
precondition for broader cooperation. Already Iran's free trade with some GCC
states, such as the United Arab Emirates, is thriving and the focus is now on
taking this to the next level by laying the foundations for regional free
Clearly, the GCC states are impressed by Iran's other regional efforts, such as
with respect to cooperating with the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, which has inducted Iran as an observer, although last week
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Iran's First Vice President Parviz
Davoodi that Russia embraced the idea of Iran's full membership, as well as
with respect to the Economic Cooperation Organization. 
The demonstration effect of such regional stability efforts by Iran was bound
to impact the GCC's behavior toward Iran sooner or later. Now, after much ebb
and flow in that behavior, the GCC states have come to a firm new conclusion
about the need to forge more organic relations with their assertive Iranian
neighbor, with most, if not all, the GCC leaders perhaps guardedly concurring
with Putin's statement that a "powerful Iran is beneficial to the region".
Internally, the noticeable improvement in Iran's relations with the GCC states
cited above will be considered a timely plus for Ahmadinejad and his visions
and programs for Iran's external relations, thus contributing to his likely bid
for re-election next summer. Combining power and flexibility, Ahmadinejad's
foreign policy may have been too controversial or even confrontational at
times, but after the taboo of direct dialogue with the US was broken by him he
has done much to fill the unfortunate vacuum of Third World leadership at a
critical moment in global politics.
No wonder other assertive leaders of the developing nations have embraced
Ahmadinejad, and that includes Brazil's populist leader Luda de Silva, who is
due in Tehran shortly for a much-anticipated Iran-Brazil summit.
All the same, the economy remains the number one concern of Iran's voters, as
is the case with US voters today and the big question is if Ahmadinejad will be
able to telescope the diplomatic breakthrough with the GCC states into
meaningful economic benefits, given the US's intention to tighten sanctions on
Fortunately for Iran, the legitimacy of sanctions on it have been much eroded
due to Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the
important visit of the GCC's secretary general alone is indication of a failing
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of
"Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume
XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping
Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction. For his
Wikipedia entry, click here.
His latest book,
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.