Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has extended an olive branch to the Western world in a number of speeches on possible negotiation and in his appointment of Western-leaning reformists in the new cabinet to normalize relations, something that, if Iran can achieve it, would limit Turkey’s role in the region as an influential actor.
Rouhani’s nomination of a US-educated diplomat who also worked as an Iranian envoy to the UN, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to the Foreign Ministry has attracted the most attention in terms of perceived efforts by Iran to normalize its future relations with the West.
“Iranian reformists think that existing tensions between Iran and the West are benefiting other countries, such as Turkey. The more this tension is subdued, the more Turkey’s importance will decrease in the eyes of the West, including the US,” Middle East analyst Arif Keskin stated in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman.
Other than Zarif, who is experienced in relating to Western diplomats, Iran’s new president has appointed a prominent reformist and former industry and mines minister, Eshaq Jahangiri, as his top deputy. Jahangiri is a close ally of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who is disliked by hard-liners.
The new president has said several times that his administration will take concrete steps to improve Iran’s relations with the world and resolve the nuclear impasse with the West.
Iran perceives Turkey to be practicing an expansionist foreign policy, and believes that the country is trying to enter Iran’s sphere of influence in the Middle East and other regions, according to Keskin.
Iran is an important regional actor that might serve Western interests if it could be “gained” as a Western ally. The Shiite regime is significantly influential on many groups from Iraq to Afghanistan, being able to form various alliances for the West in these countries.
The tacit regional competition between Turkey and Iran has increased in the last couple of years, as Turkey has slightly strengthened its ties with groups like Gaza-based Hamas, which also has a past affiliation with Iran and Syria. Turkey’s staunch support for the fight against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is another source of confrontation between Turkey and Iran, the biggest supporter of the Syrian Baath regime.
Keskin also noted that Iran is passing through what may be its hardest period in terms of foreign and domestic policy, as the squeeze of Western sanctions is sending inflation to over 40 percent while the rial has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the dollar. Iran also has very problematic relations with its Middle Eastern neighbors and has lost much of its credibility in the eyes of the Arab Spring countries due to its position on Syria.
“Rouhani’s ascent to power has come as a lifebuoy for Iran, stalemated with its failures in both domestic and foreign policy. But one needs to ask if Iran is sincere in any cooperation with the West,” Keskin said, emphasizing that Rouhani’s moderation in Iran might also serve as a breathing space for the country’s hard-liners.
Iran’s large-scale development of its military and nuclear capacity during the term of Khatami, who is seen by the West as the most moderate president of Iran since the 1979 revolution, also creates similar suspicions about the Rouhani administration’s ability to ease tensions with the Shiite regime’s Western critics.
Iran says its nuclear program is for power generation and medical purposes only, rejecting Western allegations that it seeks the capability to make atomic weapons.
Meanwhile, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is scheduled to hold a new round of talks with Iran on Sept. 27, the first such meeting since Rouhani took office.
Assistant Professor Süleyman Elik, who teaches international relations at İstanbul’s Medeniyet University, asserted that Iran would not receive any response from the Western world and the US in particular, even though it is trying to take a more moderate posture in its foreign policy.
“A possible Syrian intervention, which would be led by the US, is around the corner, and this will eliminate any possibility of involvement with the Iranian regime in the medium term,” said Elik in a phone interview with Sunday’s Zaman.
Mentioning that regional alliances akin to those of the Cold War era have reappeared after a long time due to the conflicting interests of the international community in terms of Middle Eastern developments, Elik stated that even if Iran intended to come to terms with the West on the Syrian question, the regional bloc it shares with Russia and China would be an obstacle to this option.
“As the structure and positions of the international community remain this way, there is no way that the existing relations will change,” Elik opined.
In relation to this, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that US intervention in Syria would be “a disaster for the region,” as the Iranian Embassy in Ankara announced in a press release on Wednesday.
[ARABAŞLIK] Constructive Iran-West negotiation will be a relief for Turkey
Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, explained in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman, “No one in the region, including Turkey, would say ‘no’ to a constructive negotiation period between the West and Iran.”
“I cannot imagine that an Iranian-Western confrontation will be welcomed by anyone when the Middle East is boiling with conflicts,” Maloney continued.
Relations between the US and Iran have reached their current low as a consequence of the stalled nuclear talks in 2012. Israel has several times threatened Iran, which it sees as an existential threat, with a military strike if Iran does not abandon its uranium-enrichment program, a scenario which might precipitate a third world war according to observers.
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