behind the fanfare, what is the way forward for iran

27 jan 2016

Last week we saw a worldwide fanfare- the occasion being the lifting of the international sanctions on Iran, as it had completed the first stage of its obligations laid down by the 5+1 agreement, reached on 14th of July last year between the five international powers and Iran.
Both sides, particularly the Americans and Iranians called the occasion a “Victory”. The President of Iran, Hassan Ruhani referred to the event in his speech to the nation as a “golden time for Iran to stand tall”. Mohammad  Jawad  Zarif, the Foreign Minister of Iran, said that the time for regional cooperation and stability had come.  President Obama and his Foreign Secretary John Kerry echoed the same optimistic attitude, of a new Iran coming to international stage home and dry!
Both sides seem to have the same positive outlook, and along with all with the media, have chosen to ignore the real facts, which are simply that the agreement reached on 14th of July was part of a “Process” not a “Pact”. This means that whatever Iran gives up on, regarding certain activities in its nuclear project, the reward will be the reciprocal, i.e., the lifting of sanctions will be gradual and carefully monitored by both the International agencies and the Americans alike.
So the fanfare was directed to the local public opinion, much needed by both the American and Iranian home fronts alike. It was one battle won and a victory at the same time. To continue the fanfare, additional ‘gush’ accompanied it- both Tehran and Washington releasing from custody those who had been called “spies”, although those people had been put on trial and had been condemned to prison.
However, soon, even before the fanfare festivals have finished, the US authority will is discussing the imposition of new sanctions on Iran, their officially stated reasons being the continued production and testing of a long range ballistic missile, human right abuses, and supporting terrorism!
Those three serious accusations could easily take Tehran back to square one in international politics, and all this will play into the hands of fundamentalist groups who have been hoping that the 14th of July process will collapse. The process could fall apart when the new American administration comes to office, a little more that twelve months from today, as it is no secret that both Republicans and a good number of Democrats in the United states see the “process” is not workable, as the Islamic Republic continues to press on with its own agenda in the region- exporting ‘the revolution’ and instigating public enormities against neighbouring countries with close alliances with the West.  The basic question that occurs to observers, especially on the Arab side is: ‘Will Iran, after the partial lifting of some sanctions, change the basic policies towards its neighbors that it has adopted for the last thirty years or so?’
It has played havoc with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and lately in Yemen, and has a negative attitude towards the immediate neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and mostly Bahrain. Last week a court ruling in Kuwait cited, in its official state judgment on a group conspiring to topple the Kuwaiti system of government, Iran was named as being behind this group. An Iranian citizen was even condemned to death because of his role in the conspiracy, and earlier the Saudi Embassy building was set on fire, allegedly in protest against one Saudi citizen who was sentenced earlier.
The involvement of Iran in the internal affairs of the Gulf neighborhood is quite obvious, to the extent that it is publicly accused by international bodies of “supporting terrorism”. It is a puzzling situation, on the one hand lifting sanctions and on the other laying down some very serious accusations! Which one is the right policy and which one is wrong? Nobody knows for definite!
We can expect three major scenarios. The first, which is the most unlikely one as we shall see in due course, is that Tehran state will change course and ease things in Yemen, by pushing their allies the Houthis to make some compromise with the legitimate government and start a peace process. It could then continue this process by putting an end to their fighting in Syria to support Assad (using Hizbollah), coupled with a gradual withdrawing of its military from Iraq, and encouraging its agent in Lebanon (Hizbollah again) to allow the free and fair election of a new president for the ailing republic. This is the optimistic scenario, but the one that is the least expected.
Another possibility is that Tehran will to continue to aggravate and inflame the region, aided by fresh money released by the West, due to funds being unfrozen, and the return of oil revenues. This option needs to have at least a taste of approval from the Americans, for reasons unknown until now!
The third choice, which is most likely, is a juggling act between the first and the second, manifested by pursuing its interests, or what Tehran thinks of as “its interests” accompanied by some easing in the tensions which have dominated the scene so far.
The playing out of these scenarios will depend on the internal situation in the ‘Islamic Republic’, and which faction will prevail in the power struggle between the so-called ‘Moderates’ and ‘Fundamentalists’- and this struggle could last all year.  Added factors are the hardships that the Iranian public have suffered all these years, because of the sanctions, and the likely continuing fall in the price of oil. So Iran probably now has a window of opportunity to select the route of pursuing peace. It seems to be the wisest, and least costly option for everybody, but will wisdom prevail?

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