Iran-Obama Grand Deal

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dr. Kayhan Barzegar

Will Iran’s foreign policy in the region change with the coming to power of Barack Obama? This would depend on the type of practical and fundamental “change” in the US foreign policy vis-à-vis accepting the “role” and regional status of Iran. The new Iran-US dilemma, concurrent with the new political developments in the region, is over the axis of “stabilizing roles”. Under the status quo, the two countries consider a boost in one another’s role in the region a threat against their national security and interests. For the same reason, a change in Iran’s foreign policy would occur when Obama’s foreign policy would be based on departure from this strategic conflict.

The prevailing outlook in Iran is that with the coming to power of Obama no fundamental change would occur in the US policies towards IRI and that the new administration would somehow continue the line of policy adopted by George Bush by sticking to the sanctions and by perpetuating the existing political pressures. This viewpoint coupled with pessimism and caution is rooted in the traditional and strategic concern of Iranian statesmen and elites that basically the main US foreign policy in the region is aimed at minimizing Iran’s political-security role. From this perspective, it would make no difference if a Democrat or Republican president occupies the White House because the US foreign policy in the Middle East follows a series of strategic and persistent principles such as maintaining the “balance of power” and “boosting the role of Israel.” Such policies define Iran as a main source of security threat in the region and would call for a minimum role for Tehran.

From Iran’s point of view, the new political developments in the region, particularly after the Iraqi crisis in 2003, has strengthened Iran’s regional role. This boost is owed to Iran’s geo-strategic position as a neighbor to the regional crises (Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon) as well as its dynamic ideology (the Shia factor) which have been manifested in the new situation.

Over the past few years, none of the regional crises have been resolved without paying attention and attaching importance to Iran’s “role”. The new developments have placed Iran in a superior strategic position so much so that Iranian elites call for taking advantage of this historic opportunity in compliance with stabilizing Iran’s political-security roles in the region and settling strategic dilemmas with Washington. This is something that could reduce depletion of Iran’s political-security energy and employ it in the service of the goals of development. However, Iran’s effort to boost its regional role is in open and strategic contrast with the aims of the US foreign policy as Washington basically finds such a development detrimental to its national security and interests as well as to the interests of America’s traditional allies in the Arab world and more importantly to the security of Israel.

In recent years, the American statesmen have been concentrating their efforts on curtailing Iran’s role in the region, particularly in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. Attempts to change the power and political structure in Iraq and bringing to power pro-American elites with an aim to create some “new balance of power” between Iran and Iraq, forging coalitions with the Sunni governments in the region against Iran, support for Israel in line with putting pressure on Iran and finally systematic and targeted opposition with Iran’s nuclear issue, are all made to check Iran’s growing role in the region.

As a result of such confrontational policies, Iran and the US, despite sharing geopolitical interests in maintaining regional stability and security – something which led to close cooperation between the two sides in Afghanistan crisis – have entered a phase of “political, security strategic conflict”.

In other words, what the US cites as legitimate policies in line with enhancing its security and tries to acquire them are regarded by Iran as diminishing national security. Tehran’s opposition with the initial form of the security-political agreement between Baghdad and Washington falls into this framework because a stable American presence and augmented American role on the sensitive Iranian borders is not only a direct security threat but would result in reducing Iran’s strategic role in its immediate security domains in the long term. This is under conditions that perpetuation of this strategic impasse which describes the two countries “deep-seated enemies” is not in the interest of either party.

Iran’s main challenge with the Obama government is in the manner the new US president would abandon the Bush foreign policy and creation of a fundamental change in definition of Iran’s regional role. The Obama government must understand that the nature of power and politics in the Middle East has changed and that the main focus of the Mideast issues has shifted from the west with concentration on the Arab-Israeli dispute to the east with the Persian Gulf and Iraq being the axis. Therefore, the role of Iran as a powerful player in both sensitive regions of the Middle East (Persian Gulf and Near East) cannot be overlooked.

Integration of political-security issues in these two regions makes the need for redefinition of Iran’s role in the foreign policy of the United States inevitable. Under the present condition, emphasis on the traditional policy of “balance of power” and “unilateral support for Israel’s role” is neither effective nor accepted by important regional players such as Iran.

Within this framework, the Obama government must know that an Iran with a regional role would not harm the US national interests. Obama’s main point of “change” must be based on this reality. Contrary to the prevailing outlook in the United States, the main problem between Tehran and Washington at present is not for Iran to get “security guarantees” from the US because Iran itself is a “generator of security” in the region and plays a vital role in creating stability in the region.

The main dilemma is in “conflict of roles”; therefore, a “grand deal” must become the axis for acceptance and stabilization of Iran’s regional “role” more than anything else. In that case, Iran may be able to settle the Near East issues in return for stabilization of its regional role in the vital domains of security and national interest in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.   

Iran should also realize that its political influence and role is not always stable and should therefore take the most advantage of this historic and exceptional opportunity in line with stabilization of its political-security roles in the situation of transition in the Middle East. Also, acceptance of Iran’s legitimate right to continue its peaceful nuclear program should take place in the framework of stabilization of Iran’s regional role.


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