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September 20, 2013
“Rather than focusing on how to prevent things from getting worse, we need to think—and talk—about how to make things better.”
“We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and feuds that fuel violence and drive us apart.”
“…prudence and hope…”
“We have no plans to develop nuclear weapons.”
-President Hassani Rohani of Iran
Sound’s like a load of garbage after all these years, right? It might actually be one hundred percent true.
Consider the US-Iranian relations just went from zero to secret correspondence- or “pen-pals” as the media is calling it. At the UN meeting in New York this next week, some have speculated whether the President Obama and President Rohani will even speak with each other or even meet.
A horde of changes surround now defines the region and also a new door for diplomatic wrangling. This is what is supposed to happen- the fight takes place in a room with words and not weapons. The militaries and national assets remain outside at the ready to stand to or stand down.
Issues and changes. Iran has a heavy interest to keep Assad in power. America does not have a heavy interest in replacing him with the “opposition,” but does want him removed- not as badly as Iran and Russia want him there.
They released eleven political prisoners.
Changes in Iran: President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the hardliners are pushed aside and there is a legitimately “new approach.” In fact, Rohani was recently elected and allowed to be a nominee and winner for this very purpose- the reason of not only appeasing the population that voted for him, but trying a route that might actually work better for Iran.
This does not mean it is completely in-line with the US interest, but it might be a ‘workable and welcomed’ improvement. Even if utterly fake, the US can drive the “appearance” of positive and peaceful change diplomatically and hold Iran accountable with international partners to be praised or vilified more than they are right now by the international community.
Clearly they are trying to repair not only their rotten image but open their borders to the greater world around them- to attract investment and reintegration. Iran as a nation desires to be great in their own unique way, much like Saudi Arabia does- its arch state rival. To be great and relevant, today, Rohani knows that Iran must “persuade” the US and the world to accept a benign face- which might actually be genuine if it can be held responsible- as it must re-enter the 21st century global market place and be respected by the rest.
Iran is still the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) until 2015; hosting the 120 nation organization last August in Tehran. This is important because many have seen Iran as the victim, so repairing ties will naturally strengthen US relations multilaterally among them too. Iran still wants a strong Islamic Republic but Rohani is willing to make Western concessions and in fact, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is fond of many aspects of the West, even if he is critical of many more of them on the cultural and social degradation side. He too wants to go on record as a force behind a prosperous Iran and quelled public.
President Rohani has today called for a new dialogue on nuclear talks and an end of sanctions just after President Obama demonstrated a willingness to negotiate for peace in Syria, rather than threat. Could this be a ploy? Sure.
Might Iran develop weapons anyway? They don’t need to, they either already have the capability or weapons grade material, or, according to Israel and the US, they will have it within a year and a half now. This is an inevitable fact no matter what. The US and allies demonstrated they were not going to attack Iran but were willing to isolate it (relatively- at least a dozen states have an exemption to the sanctions, including China, Japan and turkey). Most importantly, Iran can win both fronts of the issue by “not” producing them, the international community can win because they have not violated this (but they do need to let the inspectors back in to tour suspected facilities).
This push for peace precedes the UN meeting that he will attend in New York this next week where the two leaders will be present. It is a legitimate offer, as it is a realistic one. They offer nothing but opening up their economy and perhaps will be willing to open more to the inspectors.
On the ideological front, the Iranian Republican notion of democracy and freedom have been a mixed bag in Iran. As long as the people do not over turn their principles, the Islamic powers in charge are willing to allow them what they call, and the President has called, “personal freedoms.”
Islam, whether Sunni or Shia is a “social” religion- a culture of beliefs and duties mixed into ones way of life. For President Rohani and other clerics, idea to allow privacy in the home is very different than the Western secular notion of freedom of assembly. Hardliners take this as a means to crack-down on the people, but the more moderate elements will see that as a last resort. What about the moral police? Again, for Iran, the issue is social versus private freedoms. As soon as one goes outside, they have stepped into the kingdom of Islam, interpreted by the Iranian religious elites and they are no longer enjoying their “private” freedoms because of they have their social obligations.
In other states like Saudi Arabia, which is predominantly a variant of Sunni salfism, even the inside of the house knows no freedom. People are ‘encouraged’ to be ultra-religious. In Iran, the up and coming generations are predominantly secular, rebellious or faint believers not because they have overthrown the religious elites but because the religious elites have given them this freedom or space to “personally rebel.” The former is going back in time and the latter is looking ahead to the future. The Saudi royalty, who continue to enforce the most brutal form of punitive measures on the planet, have made token gestures to democracy but now fear it as the most lethal of all, after the Arab Awakening (Islamic Spring).
If for both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and in fact all states, America was able to garner a greater path to liberalism that included, or at least did not at first provoke religious authorities, there might be further hope for both of these states; especially when they undergo the coming challenges of Mother Nature- water scarcity, famines, and inclement weather. They will need the support of the West but they will have to gain their trust and start treating all of their citizens more justly. In the future, we might be working with the Iranians and against the Saudis- especially if they keep backing al Qaeda affiliate groups through the region and the world.
Given a choice between the two, it is interesting that America is still an ally of Saudi Arabia and an enemy of Iran. I’d hate to think the Us was playing favorites between the two of them for no strategic reason or advantage. Iran is much further along the secular path culturally. Yet regardless of the bad history between the the US and Iran, which was more of a “nothing personal” “just business” of the Cold War and the last 10 years of unofficial low-intensity MOOTW (military operations other than war) exchanged between the two- here we are now- a new day.
If Rohani wants “negotiations without threats” then he can allow the nuclear weapons inspectors form the Atomic Energy Agency back in to tour through his country’s arsenal, refineries, power plants and waste sites. Short of this, we are left with a defiant lack of transparency on the issue. The problem from their perspective is fear. They most likely do not want to nuke Israel- maybe a few hardliners do, maybe they all do- but they are not about to. They want what Israel has- a secret stash of nuclear weapons without condemnation. They will get them anyway. Either we attack them know and they still develop them a decade later or we deal now and get the best deal, since they will get them either way or have the capability to make them. They are actually in a better position politically and a weak position economically. They need the economy side of things to improve and we need the political things to improve (i.e. the diplomatic bargaining power).
*First published by In Homeland Security