By Iran Review
By Hossein Sadeghi*
Achievement of the nuclear agreement, which was a direct result of Iran’s interactive approach and a major diplomatic breakthrough for our country, led to resolution of one of the biggest fake, but difficult and critical cases. Of course, this agreement was not achieved easily, but differences and challenges that faced negotiating teams and existence of unresolved issues were the “Achilles’ heel” that prolonged the negotiations. However, this problem was finally solved on the basis of the negotiation strategy and the tactic of simplifying solution of the problem by dealing with unresolved issues. It seems that after going through this difficult process, another unresolved issue still remains on the way of realizing the goals and implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That issue is establishment of regional relations on the basis of confidence building with special focus on the existing considerations in Iran-Saudi Arabia relations, which can have regional and international repercussions. Therefore, both sides are needed to examine this issue and find logical and mutually acceptable solutions for it.
Without a doubt, regional confidence building and delineation of bright horizons in this field can play an effective role in eliminating grounds for the Israel’s opportunism, which has been always seeking to foment crises by taking advantage of the existing differences and tensions. Such a measure will also work as an important element to provide needed grounds for more extensive confidence building. In line with the large-scale ideas of the Islamic Republic and under these conditions, and also following relative relief from the nuclear issue, Iran’s foreign minister has put on his agenda the implementation of a new regional approach. This new approach includes pursuit of active diplomacy through various means, including public diplomacy (publishing articles in widely circulating Arabic periodicals) and direct consultations with some important regional countries on the basis of the initiative to promote regional dialogue, and by changing Iran’s priority to improving relations with neighboring states on the basis of good neighborhood principles. Of course, due to tense and challenging background of regional relations, especially in the past years, the general course of this dialogue is characterized by many ups and downs because tensions that existed during the period of stalemate in Iran’s regional relations still overshadow this process and have obliterated opportunities for the improvement of regional ties one after the other.
Undoubtedly, gaps that were created among regional countries in the period of tension will show themselves during any new possible dialogue in the form of unresolved issues, or in other words, ambiguous, but controversial issues that are of concern to all involved sides and regional actors. Therefore, finding effective options in an interactive context for transition through the status quo by making new models based on the successful nuclear negotiations to do away with unresolved issues can help all sides to achieve a maximum degree of success with regard to issues that will be subject of talks among regional countries with the final goal of establishment and bolstering of balanced relations.
In this model of dialogue, removing unresolved issues would be an important focus in order to provide grounds for regional interaction between Iran and Saudi Arabia because if the existing unresolved issues between the two countries continue, they will play a powerful inhibitory role in preventing establishment of any new regional order on the basis of understanding as well as cooperation and convergence among regional powers. In other words, as long as a suitable solution for the elimination of this unresolved issue – that is, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia – has not been found, there cannot be much hope in reaching understanding and establishment of effective regional cooperation. This is true because in case of lack of understanding, each side of this equation will try to form new alliances by attracting allies at regional and international levels and will follow their own rival and challenging interests, the result of which will be intensification of tension across the region. This is of special importance because although Iran and Saudi Arabia stand on different levels of power, both of them enjoy enough potential and capacity to go their own different way.
According to this assumption, resolving the big unresolved issue (the challenge in Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia) as the main element preventing establishment of any new regional system based on understanding, would require elimination of secondary, but important unresolved issues that are directly related to the two countries’ political, economic, security and religious ties. Of course, this does not mean that one issue should be eliminated in favor of the other, but it means that the two countries should start thinking to find new fields of interaction while sticking to principles that are accepted by both sides. During recent years, Iran and Saudi Arabia have faced basic challenges with regard to a wide spectrum of international, regional and even bilateral issues and, at times, there have been streaks of hostility in their rivalry. In addition to causing problems in bilateral relations, such tense relations had destructive effects on various areas of cooperation in the region and across the Islamic world. In addition, these tense relations enjoyed vast political, economic and religious dimensions, which paved the way for the growth of extremist groups which embarked on terrorist operations to fan the flames of religious war. Meanwhile, extra-regional elements also tried to take advantage of this opportunity and meet their interests by encouraging religious sedition, and in doing so, they have been able to make tangible gains.
Iran and Saudi Arabia, as two big and powerful regional countries, have enough potentials and capacities to enable them to identify their differences and their undeniable rivalry away from media hype, and discuss them through negotiations and direct dialogue in order to find a way out of the current situation. This potential for negotiation and dialogue can provide a ground for discussion and finally elimination of unresolved issues in bilateral relations. The sole alternative to dialogue is continuation of the status quo, which undoubtedly will lead to escalation of tensions and its harmful effects will not only affect these two countries, but also influence other countries in the region and the Islamic world as well as the entire international system.
*Hossein Sadeghi, Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia