Question One: Was the United States serious when it invited Iran to discuss the matter of Iraq’s future?
Question Two: Was Iran hasty in saying yes to the American invitation?
Question Three: Was it wise for the Arab states to express nervousness about the American invitation and Iran’s agreement with it?
The answers to these questions are intertwined until they nearly become one answer. The United States charges Iran with most of the responsibility for the bloody chaos that has taken on the character of sectarian division. Thus, the invitation for discussion originates from the fact that the American occupation forces in Iraq don’t know how to deal with the role played by Iran, are powerless to use it to their advantage or master it on their own.
However, Iran, which has, root and branch, denied this role, is directly affected by what happens in Iraq, not only from a sectarian point of view, but from a national security perspective as well. To be more precise, the meshing of borders and peoples, and the interweaving of relationships and interests, puts Iraq – in light of what is happening there since the time of Saddam Hussein and after him, and especially during the time of the American occupation – is at the top of Iran’s concerns and preoccupations.
For this reason, agreeing to the American invitation doesn’t necessarily mean Iran is acknowledging the accusation that it has been inciting sectarian discord in Iraq. At the same time, being prepared to open American-Iranian negotiations means Iraq is merely one of the topics on Tehran’s list.
For the Iranian-American problem is not limited to Iraq alone, but is a multi-faceted problem – for example, there is the nuclear issue, the issue of Iran’s role in Afghanistan, which borders Iran from the east [map, right], the issue of Iran’s aspirations in the Gulf, from the Strait of Hormuz to the three islands that the United Arab Emirates is demanding that Iran return, and then there is the issue of oil, which Washington is trying to seize and control. There is also the issue of the Iranian-Syrian alliance, which creates a security and political vice around Iraq; and then there is the issue of the distinct and very special relationship between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The United States has considered Iran a rogue state, had demanded its isolation, and had condemned its behavior before the United Nations Security Council. Now all of a sudden, it has opened up to Iran and invited it to the negotiating table. Iran wasn’t going to miss this opportunity and refuse the invitation, that is to say, the “mentality of carpet-weaving” reflects a culture of patience and endurance of suffering, and usually pre-empts premature demands. For in the game of finger-biting between Tehran and Washington, Iran has suffered more, but the United States is the one that moaned first. This isn’t the first time that this game of finger-biting has finished to Iran’s advantage; perhaps the most prominent of previous occasions was seen in the famed example of the Iran-Contra affair[RealVideo], which took place during the term of former President Ronald Reagan.
[Editer’s Note: During the Reagan Administration, the White House’s obsession with evading congressional restrictions on aid to the Nicaraguan contras drove them to sell weapons and spare parts to Iran’s Mullahs. The episode is one of the more bizarre events in U.S. foreign policy, and even included delivering a cake shaped like a key and a Bible, signed by Reagan, to Iran’s clerics; an episode that led the embarrassed deliverer of the pastry surprise, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, to tell a Congressional hearing, “Simply put, there was a cake on the mission. I didn’t buy it, bake it, cook it, eat it, present it, or otherwise get involved with it”].
With regard to this, President George Bush considers Reagan the ideal. So is he following this ideal by publicly condemning Iran … and simultaneously holding under-the-table discussions with it?!
Indeed, it would be naive to believe that the Arab states – and especially those that surround Iraq (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and Syria) – warmly welcome Iranian-American discussions. At the same time, it is naive not to believe that the United States has no interest in inciting the Arab states – and especially the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council – against Iran and its aspirations – aside from Iraq – in the region.
Arab fears of being isolated by either America and/or Iran, in case of a settling of Iraq’s situation, are based on potential American intimidation by a nuclear-armed Iran. And in the midst of all of this intentional muddying of the sectarian waters, and the attempts to fish in them, it seems like the Great Game of nations in the region has entered its most dangerous phase. Hence, the importance of holding and Arab-Iranian dialogue centering on Sunni-Shiite Islamic unity and shared strategic interests.
So how is it reasonable that there is Arab-American dialogue and Iranian-American dialogue, but no Arab-Iranian dialogue?
Indeed, the Arab summit that begins tomorrow in Khartoum was called to address this issue, an issue that deserves attention. For Arab-Iranian mutual understanding is fundamental to confronting the challenge that Israel creates by its very existence and aspirations. Israel alone benefits from obstructing this mutual understanding.
And whoever doesn’t see the Israeli hand in the sectarian explosions in Iraq is closing his eyes to deny the light of the sun.