zaterdag 5 maart 2011

Iran-Transatlantic Relations Need New Software

by Nabi Sonboli

Part 3: Looking forward

Mausoleum Imam Reza
There are many more fields of cooperation between Iran, the EU and the US than areas of differences or competition. Stability and development in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Arabian Peninsula to the Levant; contributing to global energy security; security of supply and transit of gas to both the EU and Asian countries; expansion of economic relations and its benefit for EU and US markets; control and containment of terrorism and extremism; preventing drug trafficking, etc., are among the common interest of all sides. It is not understandable why some people, instead of concentrating on so many common interests, are only blowing up minor issues and problems. Even the nuclear issue is not a big problem between the two sides. EU and US participation in the Iranian nuclear program is the best mechanism for confidence building and best objective guarantee for being sure about the nature of the program.

If we compare the Iranian behavior in Iraq and Afghanistan with some of those in the region who are called strategic partner and/or allies by the US and EU countries, the US and NATO have benefited much more from Iranian contributions than others. Appreciating Iranian positive role by constructive behavior and positions is necessary to strengthen mutual confidence.

Those who see their benefit in weakening and even destroying relations between Iran and US-EU need to rethink about that. The more weakened the relations have been, the more they have lost their influence on Iran and the regional developments. Those who push for isolationist policies need to understand who will benefit from such policies. During the past decades, different tendencies have tried to influence Iranian foreign policy: Asianists, Europeanists, Americanists, Isolationists, Globalists, and the supporters of non-alignment are some of them. The shifting focus of Iran’s foreign policy to different directions stems from the existence of different tendencies inside the country. The US and EU pressures have just undermined the position of those who support better relations between Iran and the West. This is why gradually the number of those who are ready to support rapprochement is shrinking.

The US and EU may be able to close their doors, but the key to all doors is not in their hands. Many doors have remained open for Iran. The new generation of businessmen is familiar with Beijing and Shanghai much more than Hamburg and London. The next generation of intellectuals and engineers are more familiar with Indian, Russian and Malaysian universities than French, German and US ones.

Long term pressures and pushes by the US and some European countries have led to less Western influence on Iranian public opinion. The majority of people is neither pro-West, nor anti-West. However, the constant anti-Iran propaganda, blowing up minor issues and creating big problems like sanctions, and launching wars in the region, have led to a loss of credibility of the West among the people. Double standard policies toward democracy and human rights have made these mottos less attractive. The people look for a better life, but none of the foreign countries can claim that they have been supporting a better life for the people. Supporting Saddam during the Iraqi war against Iran, launching the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and imposing sanctions for Iran’s nuclear program that the people support, do not endorse the allegation of wanting a better life for the people in Iran and the region.

Furthermore, gradually a kind of consensus has been created among different political groups on most of foreign policy issues. Stability, solidarity and national unity are the red lines. Iran’s society will not support anyone who crosses them. All political groups oppose a military attack and most of them even oppose any sanction. In addition, the structure of power (put in comprehensive terms) in Iran is pluralistic and different political groups have enough social, political and economic bases to continue their influence on politics. Consequently supporting changes in Iranian politics and/or waiting for them to happen, will not lead to major behavioral changes in foreign and even in internal politics. Hence, we witness more continuity in Iran’s foreign policy than change. This is why neither the wait and see policy nor pro/against positions toward different political groups has led to the expected result.

Additionally, most of the issues that Iran’s foreign policy is involved in are both strategic and international. These features limit Iran’s room to maneuver in its foreign policy. Iran cannot change its positions without witnessing necessary changes in the behavior of others, especially that of the US. However, Iran has not limited its flexibility, like the US and the EU. The latter, by passing different laws and resolutions has bound its hand and limited its options. These self restrictions contribute to self-defeating. The failure of past US sanctions and regulations against Iran shows that this process does not work.

Because of fundamental changes, the old software does not work between Iran and the US and the EU. The interdependence between EU-US has prevented EU-Iran relations from working properly. The experience during the past three decades demonstrates that neither side is unilaterally able to write an appropriate program for a working relationship. To establish mutually beneficial relations, writing a common and effective program is necessary.

Nabi Sonboli holds an international relations. He is a Research Fellow at the International and Legal Studies section of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) in Tehran and is currently representing the institute in Berlin working on scientific cooperation.

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