Spearhead Analysis – 02.10.2013
By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan
“We have announced that talks for talks is not acceptable (to us) while the negotiations should also have a time limit so that the interests of both sides will be met and in win-win negotiations,”
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham told reporters in Tehran: 23 September 2013.
With the United Nations General Assembly only two months after a new President assumes office and a dire need for improved relations with the West, Iran has been building ground to play her cards appropriately and effectively. Iran’s status as the pariah state since the 1979 Khameini Revolution has been promoted in the recent past: labeled a threat larger than North Korea itself. Iran’s nuclear aspirations seem to be only the tip of the ice berg as far as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu goes. A religious bearing and an anti-establishment attitude also contribute to the plethora of economic sanctions that pose a threat.
Iran’s nuclear aspirations are not alone responsible for pushing her into the corner of shame. The Green Movement after Ahmedinejad’s re-election in 2009 and human rights issues have attracted international community’s involvement. In a world of economic gain, economic sanctions seemed to have closed Iran’s options. For Rouhani the biggest challenge remains working with the people, and the international nuclear watchdogs, while keeping popularity with the backbone of Iranian Establishment, the Royal Guard and Khameini himself. Previously the lead nuclear negotiator during Ahmedinejad’s tenure as President he managed to come closest so far to a concession with the West.
But come United Nations General Assembly 2013, Rouhani left for New York hoping to meet the President in the White House, but sufficed with a phone call from Obama himself at the airport on his way back. The phone call marks first direct contact ever between the United States and Iran after 1979. Shortly after this historic phone call President Obama was scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House.
“It is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient. We need to see actions that give the international community confidence that in fact they are meeting their international obligations fully; and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon” clarified Obama.
This assurance however fails to address the larger problem Israel is faced with. They feel their biggest ally has bailed out on them first in the case of Syria where Russian President was allowed to steal the show, and now with Rouhani, making a mockery out of their partnership. American media has also taken a suave shift towards the Eastern geo-political interests as two weeks prior to the UNGA Putin and Rouhani both made it to leading American newspapers. US’ sudden ‘slack’ has agitated Netanyahu who had ordered his diplomats to walk out as Rouhani stood on the podium, expecting the US to follow the previous drill, which it didn’t.
“As expected, this was a cynical speech that was full of hypocrisy,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Wednesday. But Obama lauded the newly elected President’s moderate discourse. For Obama Rouhani could be a partner in trying to break the impasse over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the historic phone call reaffirmed his newfound faith.
Rouhani is also seeking to restart the negotiations with a fresh positivity that his predecessor clearly lacked — and appears to have crucial backing from Iran’s supreme leader— with the aim of enticing the U.S. and allies to ease painful sanctions. While the West has previously believed that the pressure on Iran’s economy was the best way to force concessions, a new government is seen as an opportunity to rebuild this relation. For the US it is convenient to throw the baby with the bath water: Ahmadinejad was the problem, the fanatic, who posed a threat to global peace. Rouhani marks the opportunity for a fresh dynamic. To reach successful and sustainable solutions, the two sides should be ready for constructive interactions based on equal footing.
“The field of foreign policy needs sobriety, patience, wisdom and well-assessed and targeted measures and the pile of problems cannot be expected to be resolved by one or some meetings,” Zarif (Iran’s Foreign Minister) wrote on Monday.
While the United Nations President, Ban ki-moon, insists concession and diplomacy is the way forward, Netanyahu seems to have been pushed on his back foot. Convinced that Iran’s ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel, talks are not even an option. Netanyahu took the matter from the Whitehouse to the United Nations General Assembly, with a childish caricature of a bomb and a red line. While the caricature was mocked back home as well, his efforts towards creating a demon out of Iran, and aggressive campaigning even in 2012 election through Republican candidates all seem to have failed. The Republican lost, Palestine won the UNESCO vote by a groundbreaking margin, and Putin came to solve the Syrian crisis. The icing on the cake for Israel was definitely the historic phone call. Talks with Obama, or Ban ki-moon seem hollow, as Palestine, Syria and Iran fall out of reach, Netanyahu feels betrayed.
Bibi continues to stand by sharp allegations against his adversaries. And this time more in sync with his concerns isn’t Obama, but Saudi Arabia alone. Facing domestic issues, and after disappointment from the United Kingdom government over intervention in Syria, Obama seems to have realized his energy is best focused back home. Iraq still haunts the establishment; whistleblowers are being punished and accused to keep the issue of war crimes in the blind spot of the majority, but for how long can they be banished? Afghanistan withdrawal is infused with complications as terrorist outfits escalate in the Af-Pak region. The OBL assassination might have won Obama his second term from the foreign policy perspective, but another military intervention can only nullify his achievements in the past. More than goodwill America’s own national interests seem to be dictating this new peace loving foreign policy. But abandoning her allies in a hostile region might not be as easy as Obama would like to think. Placebo pills seem insufficient to assuage Israel’s concerns. AIPACs outreach in American media and the Republicans is a weapon that Netanyahu can easily resort to.
As Obama cuts his Asia trip short amidst a Government shutdown, it is clear that Republican cooperation will involve concessions beyond the Fiscal Cliff and Healthcare bill. It will involve better consideration for their ally: Netanyahu. Sending Obama to war will allow his adversaries to reap the benefits, while conveniently divorcing themselves from the baggage. For now the opposition and Israel can together pull Obama’s reins to their mutual advantage.