By Mohammad Mahdi Mojahedi*
The true importance of the recent nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, more than being related to its text, should be seen in two other aspects of the deal. The first aspect is the process of the negotiations and the method that was “invented” through the negotiations, which led to this agreement. The second aspect is wanted or unwanted “outcomes” of the deal.
Invention of this useful negotiation process, along with the outcomes of the deal, will not only divide the history of international relations and Iran’s foreign policy into two parts – before and after the Vienna nuclear agreement – but is also a certain sign of the emergence of a new Middle East, which will come into being within the next couple of decades.
Due to clear geopolitical and geostrategic reasons, following the Constitutional Revolution in Iran, none of the policies of the world’s big powers in the Middle East could have been designed and pursued in the absence of due attention to Iran’s role. The Middle Eastern policy of big powers, especially during two world wars, in addition to all the developments that took place in the Cold War era, are good evidence to this fact.
Before the nuclear deal, however, Iran, either as a partner or as a rival country or as a strategic foe to this or that global power in the region, always saw itself faced with fait accompli with regard to regional plans implemented by big powers.
A review of many historical examples, including the most important impulses that shook the Middle East region during the 20th century, will make it possible to show that big powers imposed their own dreams for the region on regional countries by convincing them that this was their inevitable fate. As a result, they faced the Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, with fait accompli through unilateral pursuit of their plans.
However, the nationalization of the oil industry in Iran, and most importantly, the unexpected breakout of the Islamic Revolution in the country proved that even big powers could be taken by surprise in the Middle East. Iraq’s failure in the proxy war that big powers had launched against Iran, once again, took big powers by surprise. All these developments took place in the context of the confrontation between the national will of Iranians and regional plans of big powers, which at the end of the day, led to a zero-sum game.
The process and trend of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China plus Germany and the European Union) in the past two years was, nonetheless, of a quite different type. The essential change in the quality of the political dialogue between Iran and big Western powers through recent talks – from a state of confrontation to a state of interaction and cooperation – has been a function of important factors all of which cannot be enumerated here.
But out of all factors, a mention should be made of the outlook of developments related to the Greater Middle East plan and the inevitable change in the approach of big powers, especially the United States, to future prospects of the Middle East. This change of policy has been the result of a renewed assessment by big powers of the change in the gravity center of power, stability and security in the region.
Such an assessment shows that those countries, which were considered as the West’s allies in the region during the past 30 years, are now prone to fall, collapse, or at least, escalating crises, which will be incurable and rapidly spreading in some cases.
Iran the sole stable and powerful option
At the same time, Iran will remain the sole stable and powerful option for future cooperation with the West. Of course, Iran will change from a maximal foe to a regional ally for the Western powers during the coming decade. However, from the viewpoint of big powers, this rival has a clear and rational environmental understanding of resources and interests, and threats and opportunities in the region.
More importantly, this time, its understanding of those factors happens to be in line with that of big powers. Therefore, for a couple of decades to come, this state of rivalry will be the sole stable option that the West will have for “competitive and cautious partnership” in various strategic fields in the region.
As such, the content of the nuclear deal should be considered as a test for involved countries – both Iran and the P5+1 countries – and also as a price that all of them have paid through this process in order to reach a framework for management of regional differences and initiate competitive cooperation in the context of the Middle East’s developments.
This unwritten implication of the nuclear talks is more important than all its written outcomes. In fact, the written results are a price or a guarantee for the realization of these historical, though unwritten, outcomes of the nuclear deal.
Signs emerging from these negotiations, along with all daring actions taken and amazing records broken, were an “unthinkable” experience in the course of the current policies in the Middle East. As a result, they were indicative of the emergence of a new regime of political relations aimed at the resolution of hostilities and even promotion of “cautious and competitive” interaction between Iran and the big global powers. In the absence of such a new regime, the forthcoming developments in the Middle East would have easily gotten out of hand.
Now, it would be logical to expect that the pace of developments in the Middle East will increase; developments that will change political and strategic geography of the Middle East in their course. In the course of these changes, Iran and big global powers will play complementary roles. However, important domestic and national grounds for the establishment of these cautious, competitive, simultaneous, and cooperative relations should be provided and guaranteed.
In the absence of national consent among various types of political and social tendencies; efficiency and cooperation among three powers of the government to support competitive production; upliftment of the indexes of living; control of inflation, unemployment and corruption; and efficient management of sovereign and environmental crises, Iran will not have necessary power for active engagement in cautious and competitive cooperation with big powers in the region.
Adoption of transparent economic policies
To provide such domestic conditions in economic terms would require adoption of transparent economic policies while observing financial discipline and fighting corruption. From a political angle, provision of these conditions would need balanced and overarching observance of all articles of the Constitutions including those articles that are related to the people’s rights.
Differences in opinion and taste as well as political and social interests cannot be ignored in favor of a specific interest and taste just in the same way that diverse religious concerns of the country’s people with a Muslim majority and many religious minorities cannot be reduced to a specific reading of Islam. All these differences should turn into peaceful competition through fair implementation of the Constitution.
Two forthcoming elections that will be held at the end of the current year will be a good litmus test against which our erudition and wisdom at national and sovereign levels can be measured. If our society and politics and sovereign government pass this test, the powerful role of Iran in the region will be greatly guaranteed.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was the start of these negotiations and his name will be most probably remembered among dignitaries of Iran as well as a sophisticated diplomat in the world. He frequently warned the member states of the P5+1 group that they have to choose among two options with regard to Iran: hostile confrontation or respectful interaction. It seems that the international community and especially the big powers have already made their choice.
Now, it is our turn to make a similar choice inside the country to determine the fate of Iran: either overarching national cooperation and engaging in respectful, fair, and equitable competition based on the Constitution; or confrontation, hostility, pursuit of excessive demands, seeking factional supremacy, and impunity in the face of law.
* Mohammad Mahdi Mojahedi is Professor of Department of Political Science, University of Berlin. This article originally appeared in Iran Review on July 22 with the headline Iran, Pivot of New Middle East as translation of from the Iran Newspaper. It is being reproduced (after some editing) by arrangement with the Iran Review