Iran in NATO PA Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reconsidering Attitude and Interaction with NATO?

Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki
Expert on Europe and NATO Affairs

It was on June 30, 2011, when the Italian Senator Sergio Gregorio happily announced in a press conference that for the first time, the Islamic Republic of Iran will be represented in the annual session of NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group.

He said the presence was historically important as many NATO members supported as much dialogue with Iran as possible. The two-day meeting convened on Maddalena Island in west Italy, on Monday, July 4, attended by representatives of 25 countries. As announced by Gregorio, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Europe and the United States, Ali Ahani, took part in the meeting. Main topics on the agenda of the annual meeting included political and military situation in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf; popular uprisings in Arab countries; regional role of the Islamic Republic of Iran; the situation in Iraq; and NATO’s Mediterranean operations. The Iranian representative reportedly talked about the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region, the situation in Libya and other freedom seeking movements in the Middle East. He also met with parliamentary representatives of member states on the sidelines of the meeting.

There is no doubt that importance of the Persian Gulf has greatly increased in Euro-Atlantic security equations following terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Recent developments in North Africa and some Arab countries of the Middle East have further increased strategic significance of those regions in international developments. The result of both processes is increased geopolitical importance of Iran and its regional clout. The situation has been made more complicated as a result of expansion of NATO’s maneuvering room in the neighborhood of Iran, including more pronounced presence in the Central Asia and South Caucasus, institutional cooperation with the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and continued presence in Afghanistan. As a result, Iran has turned into a serious threat to NATO, at least, in theory.

The United States has been securitizing Iran’s issues in an effort to introduce Iran as a major threat and get it engaged with NATO in various areas. NATO, on the other hand, has been increasingly concerned about Iran within framework of regional arrangements. The final result has been involvement of such regional states as Azerbaijan and Georgia (in north) and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf (in south) in security partnerships within framework of such plans as “partnership for peace,” “Mediterranean dialogue,” or “Istanbul cooperation initiative.”

Under these conditions, any measure taken by Iran to reduce security concerns will be a well-calculated measure aimed at protecting the country’s national interests. In other words, Iran is an important actor in regional and sub-regional security arrangements. Therefore, its actions are the main determinant of NATO’s future approach to the country. Reducing security concerns will help to set general direction of that approach. Participation in the annual meeting of NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group is thus very important and a crucial measure taken by Iran’s diplomatic apparatus. In fact, the measure was a sensible step taken after a long period of exercising aggressive diplomacy. It will greatly help to explain Iran’s stances on political and security issues in the region and provide good grounds for negotiation and exchange of views. Moving in this direction and differentiating between NATO and the United States by engaging in active dialogue with NATO, especially its European members and Turkey, on various issues can help reduce security concerns about Iran. Those issues cover a wide range from stability in Afghanistan and Iraq to security of energy and fighting drug trafficking. On the other hand, NATO is well aware that long-term establishment of collective security mechanisms in the region will not be possible without Iran and the country should be included in any new regional security arrangement. It seems that due to its increasing significance, NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly can be a good starting point for serious discussion of common security concerns in order to guarantee Iran’s legitimate interests.

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