Iranian Diplomacy- Since tensions between Iran and the US, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy has obviously gained momentum. The busy Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has been paving the ground, both in the Middle East and beyond, to make up for an almost decade-long torpor in the country’s regional policy. His last stop, though not his final destination, has been Iraq.
Without doubt, Adel al-Jubeir’s unexpected visit to Baghdad, made after a 13-year hiatus, cannot be underestimated. Ever since the occupation of Iraq by the US in 2003, no senior official from Riyadh has been on an official visit to the country. Adding to its significance is the fact that Iran’s biggest regional rival, ready to use every single opportunity to criticize and make accusations against Iran’s regional policies, is setting foot in a country considered to be Iran’s closest regional ally whose operational and political integrity with Iran is the talk of the region.
Pundits have noted a dark and a lighter side of the visit. The optimist view has it that the Saudi kingdom is adopting a systematic scheme to return Iran’s favorable gesture of détente with the Persian Gulf states, as mediated by Kuwait and Oman, through approaching Iraq as a top Iran ally in the region.
Even though the realization of such speculations would dramatically increase stability in the region and pave the way for substantial cooperation among the countries, it is quite unlikely to be al-Jubeir’s mission in Iraq. At present, Saudi Arabia is not in a position to seek détente with Iran without getting substantial concessions. On the other hand, when put in the context of recent al-Jubeir’s recent moves and attacks against Iran, particularly in the Munich Security Conference, such optimism would immediately vanish from view.
This brings us to a pessimistic approach to the visit. It seems that the Saudi Foreign Minister has started a second phase of diplomatic moves to confront and isolate Iran, after his achievements in aligning Arab countries in the region, and more importantly, Turkey against Iran. The phase is albeit a difficult part of the Saudis’ larger plan for Iran: to align or neutralize Iran’s allies in the region.
In doing so, Iraq is the first choice for Saudi Arabia as the Syria file is already closed for Saudi Arabia. The country is looking forward to the Geneva talks, the transitional and possibly next Syrian government, which would be better than Bashar al-Assad’s, a close ally of Iran, anyway.
A statement on the visit, issued by the Iraqi foreign ministry on Sunday, contained an important detail. The statement explicates at one point that al-Jubeir has said during the visit that Iraq’s impartiality could pave the way for rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Although al-Jubeir has openly used the term rapprochement, no sharp mind forgets what he publicly said recently in Munich, or before that in London and Paris: efforts for détente with Iran are fruitless and in vain. Therefore, one could easily guess al-Jubeir’s trap for Iraq. It may be impossible to line Iraq with Saudi allies against Iran, but Iraq’s alliance with Iran can be neutralized. Saudi Arabia is serious in its call for Iraq’s impartiality.
What reinforces such pessimism is an article by Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, published simultaneously in the daily and Al-Arabiya News Channel last week. In the article, al-Rashed called on the Arab world leaders in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan to launch a military coalition to control Iran.
Rehashing remarks by US President Donald Trump and the Saudis that the nuclear deal has led to Iran’s more aggressive foreign policy, he wrote that the only change after the deal is a better financial and military status for Iran. He went on to claim that Iran has filled the power vacuum in Iraq and is expanding its hegemony in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
“Military cooperation, under any umbrella, is a good idea and a necessary step especially if expanded beyond that. Establishing an alliance to confront Iran is an essential balance to respond to its military alliance that includes Iraq and Syria,” he added.
After a series of articles recently published on the Wall Street Journal regarding efforts by the US and several Arab countries to establish an Arab Nato against Iran, al-Jubeir in Iraq and al-Rashed in London are interpreting their dreams for Iran.
*This piece is a translation of an unsigned article published on moderate Principlist Tabnak, affiliated with former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaei.