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OIC Summit Of Disunity – OpEd

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The 13th summit of the heads of state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) took place under the overall theme of “unity and solidarity for justice and peace” and, yet, because the Saudi-led bloc managed to turn it into an Iran-bashing forum, the summit’s important final communique reflected deep cleavages and disunity in the abode of Islam. As a result, the Iranian delegation headed by President Hassan Rouhani, who urged real unity of Muslims in his speeches at the summit, boycotted the final closing session of the summit and in a post-summit meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu, Rouhani complained that the OIC has not fulfilled its mission.

The summit’s final document contains some 200 items covering a broad range of issues, such as Palestine, the Arab-Israeli issue, terrorism, poverty, unemployment, economic cooperation, etc., including four anti-Iran points as well as one against the pro-Iran Lebanese group Hezbollah, accused of terrorism by the Saudi bloc. The OIC document accuses Iran of meddling in the internal affairs of other nations, such as Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Somali and therefore by all indications was another reminder of the continuing Iran-Saudi spat that has resulted in the cut in diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh.

Complaining of being left out of the preparatory meetings that took place in Saudi Arabia, which refused to issue visas to the Iranian delegation, Iranian officials have denounced the OIC’s final document as biased and contrary to the spirit of Islamic unity. But, at the same time, Iran managed to utilize the opportunity to hold bilateral meetings with a number of Islamic heads of states, such as Azerbaijan’s president, and Turkey, which will be chairing the OIC for the next two years, went out of its way to demonstrate its friendly approach toward Iran.

Indeed, in light of prior statements by the Turkish President Erdogan offering mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Turkey is now poised to play that role more effectively through its OIC position. That would mean, of course, that Turkey would avoid the mistake of blessing such anti-Iran measures as the ones inserted in the summit’s final document, no matter what the Saudi pressure. Turkey and Iran are now poised to take their trade relations to a higher level and in his meeting with Rouhani, Prime Minister Davutoglu stated that proper instructions have been given to the Turkish banks to conduct transactions with Iran. If the Turkish banks follow suit, then this could be a motivating factor for some European banks to set aside their present hesitations and conduct business with Iran.

Concerning the latter, a key issue presently being discussed in Washington between the US Treasury Secretary and the head of Iran’s Central Bank, Valiolah Seif, is Iran’s access to US Dollar, which has been recently backed by the US Secretary of State John Kerry. If these talks yield a positive result in the form of new US guidelines to world financial institutions regarding the permissibility of transacting in dollar in Iran actions, then a major breakthrough in terms of implementing the Iran nuclear accord will be accomplished. Certainly, the Arab banks in Dubai, for example, will benefit by resuming their lucrative relations with Iran, irrespective of the cold political relations nowadays between Iran and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC zone (minus Saudi Arabia) has much to gain, economically speaking, by Iran’s reintegration in the world community in the post-nuclear accord era, and therefore these states should prioritize their economic interests.

On the whole, despite its adoption of the Iran-bashing statements in its document mentioned above, the overall climate of the Islamic summit in Istanbul was not fiercely antagonistic and it is perhaps not far-fetched to say that the final document was somewhat at odds with the mood for reconciliation and inter-Islamic solidarity floating at the conference. In other words, it would be a mistake to reduce the summit’s importance to its final narrative.
As far as Iran is concerned, the occasion gave it an opportunity to remind the OIC members that the in the past the OIC had made the error of allowing the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein to misuse it as an anti-Iranian platform and, rather meaningfully, Iran’s foreign minister Zarif asked the pointed question of “where is Tareq Aziz (Iraq’s foreign minister then) now?” The big question is if Zarif’s point about historical lessons and avoiding the past mistakes will register with the OIC members?

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Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Editor's Note: Federal authorities in 2021 charged this contributor with operating as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government. Eurasia Review is leaving the article on the site as a matter of public record while updating his author page and the article to include this new information for context. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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