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Further signs of an Iranian regional rapprochement 1, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Foreign Policies, Iran, Middle East.
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It was suggested in an article earlier this week (‘Iran Threatens Reprisals’ 30th January) that Iran appeared to be softening its stance towards its regional neighbours. In that particular case it was Iran apparently relinquishing its previously asserted aim that countries which harboured US bases would themselves be attacked if the US launched an attack against Iran from those bases. Thus, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain – all with large US bases – would have been pleased to hear such an apparent change in policy, even if Iran retaliating against their countries was an unlikely prospect.

Additionally, in the past few months, there have been various signs of Iran edging towards a formal rapprochement with Egypt, which lends more and more credibility to the thesis suggesting that Iran are seeking to lower intra-regional tensions.

Iran broke off relations with Egypt after their involvement in the Camp David peace accords in 1978, during which Egypt negotiated with Israel. Iran saw this as a sign of betrayal and the two countries’ relations were further damaged for the coming decades when Anwar Sadat granted the deposed Shah of Iran refuge following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In the last few months, however, there have been a number of ministerial meetings signalling a thaw in relations. In December 2007, Ali Larjani the Iranian National Security Chief met with President Mubarak for discussions. This past week the speaker of the Iranian Parliament Gholam Ali Adel visited Cairo for a two day meeting orchestrated by the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). This visit followed quickly on the heels of Iran’s Director General for foreign policy for the Middle Eastern and North African affairs, who was in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the Palestinian refugee situation with Egypt’s foreign minister. Indeed, the very next day the Iranian foreign minister announced that Iran and Egypt are close to re-establishing diplomatic links.

Iran, therefore, are mending their fences in the region, not only with Egypt but with other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Ahmadinejad’s visit to Mecca and invitation to the GCC meeting in Doha are proof, if it were needed, that Iran’s policy shift is bearing fruit. Furthermore, Iran are seeking to make friends and influence people further a field in China and Central Asia. Hence their (as yet unsuccessful) lobbying to be included in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The ultimate goal of these foreign policy forays is to offset American and European attempts to isolate Iran and they seem to be doing a good job at it so far. This means that any American and European attempts to pressure Iran need to take into account these constantly evolving international relationships. Any kind of blanket or insufficiently nuanced strategy could well backfire in the long run. Indeed, according to Harvard political scientist Samantha Power, current US policies do not appear to have such as level of flexibility and understanding. One can only hope that, assuming the Bush administration is not going to revamp its policies in its twilight months, the new American administration, which ever it may be, can bring with them fresh but educated ideas of how to interact with Iran.

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