By Iran Review
By Mohammad Khajouei
In politics, enmity and friendship are not permanent and the distance or closeness between countries is a function of their mutual understanding of either country’s national interests. Relations between Iran and Bahrain are a good example to the point.
Relations between Manama and Tehran became tense after the outset of popular protests in Bahrain in February. Subsequent to protests, Iran sharply criticized treatment of protesters by of Bahrain government’s. The government of Bahrain, for its turn, charged Iran with interference in its internal affairs. Deployment of Saudi Arabian forces within framework of Peninsula Shield to suppress protests further exacerbated the situation taking it to regional levels. Bahrain then expelled Iran’s ambassador which was reciprocated by Iran. As a result, the contention between Iran and Bahrain became more serious and the situation has remained unchanged up to the present time.
Under such a tense atmosphere, when foreign ministers of Iran and Bahrain met on the sidelines of a recent annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the meeting took many circles by surprise.
The fact that the two countries’ officials have met after months of recrimination, proves that it is never too late for diplomacy and tension can be resolved at any stage.
What can be concluded from remarks of both foreign ministers in that meeting is that both Iran and Bahrain are dissatisfied with the current situation of bilateral relations and are willing to mend fences.
When the Islamic Republic of Iran sensed during the past few weeks that certain regional players including Turkey are overtaking it in terms of diplomatic influence in the region, Tehran became more active by practicing a proactive diplomacy.
On the other hand, with continuation of popular protests in Bahrain and the government’s inability to appease the opposition groups, the situation has been dire for al-Khalifa prompting them to go for regional consultations as a solution for the country’s problems.
The complex structure of the Persian Gulf region and intricacies of regional issues are such that a domestic issue can easily turn into a regional one when various players get engaged in a multifaceted game.
Under such special circumstances, the problem arises when two sides of regional equations ignore each other’s interests and situation and opt for a win-lose game. The crisis in Bahrain and its aftermath clearly proved this issue.
Just in the same way that the complicated regional structure can cause tension in bilateral relations between counties (with Iran-Bahrain relations serving a good example), it also reminds regional politicians that mutual understanding of each other’s interests is requisite for stability and security in the region.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar and all other regional countries have their own special political, strategic, and economic influence in the region which cannot be easily ignored.
The meeting between Salehi and Khalid bin Ahmed, caused a relative thaw between the two countries, but to reduce tension even further, the diplomatic circles should be widened to allow for other players to enter.
Let’s be frank, the key to crisis in Bahrain and tension in the region is held by officials of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both countries are major poles of politics and power in the region and experiences in recent years have proven that regional problems wax and wane in proportion to distance or closeness between Tehran and Riyadh.
Unfortunately, despite sensitive situation of two countries, they have not been able to forge a balance in relations and the situation of those relations has been constantly vacillating. Negative rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia has had other disconcerting consequences for the whole region for which the situation in Bahrain is only an instance.
If Iran and Saudi Arabia recognized each other’s positions as two regional powers, they could build constructive relations and even proceed with their regional rivalry under a positive and progressive atmosphere.
Let’s not forget that the main prerequisite for creation of a situation in which all regional countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia would be able to achieve mutual understanding of each other’s interests is lack of intervention from foreign powers in political and security arrangements of the region. It is regrettable that presence and activities of transregional powers has caused such a high degree of divergence among regional countries. It is not difficult, therefore, to conclude that cooperation among regional states in building a common platform for mutual understanding would be only possible when all those states take an endogenous approach to regional issues. Perhaps, Arab countries of the Persian Gulf shoulder heavier responsibility in this regard.
Master’s Degree in Middle East Studies