Iran and Gulf states: step for better relations or wedge among allies?

Iran and Gulf states: step for better relations or wedge among allies?

Baku, Azerbaijan, Oct.10

By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:

Recent visits of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Oman and Qatar and his further comments can be interpreted in different ways, depending on what one wants to hear.

Some say it was a useful step aimed at building better relations with neighboring states, others claim that Iran is trying to divide the unity of GCC members.

Sincere steps to improve relationship?

Last week Mohammad Javad Zarif, mentioning his substantive meetings held in Oman and Qatar and a successful Iran-Turkey summit in Tehran, noted that the Islamic Republic would give priority to neighboring counties in its foreign policy.

His comments concern Saudi Arabia as well, as the latter is the closest neighbor, with which Iran has a number of unresolved and painful issues. This can be interpreted as Tehran’s invitation for Riyadh to revise bilateral relations accordingly and reduce tensions in the whole region.

Is there rationale for rapprochement of the two nations?

There are millions of contradictions among people or countries over a million different cases but not all of them are necessary to turn into confrontation and hostility. On the contrary, majority of contradictions remain frozen, thanks to good will and ability for compromise.

First of all, Iran and Saudi Arabia are, to a great extent, responsible for energy stability and security in the Gulf as a crucial region of global hydrocarbons supply. This factor alone should push them towards each other.

Historically Iranians and Saudis share many common values, the key one being religion.

If Iran managed to come to terms with the West, can’t it find common ground with its Muslim co-religionists, even if having sectarian differences? Both are among the most significant Muslim states in the Islamic world, and have shrines that are honored by all Muslims. Islam, by all means, is rather uniting than a dividing factor.

Considering this, the two sides could put an end to the Yemeni war.

Another concern is reciprocal blames in terrorism. Here it is necessary to remind that in spite of antipodal positions over Syria, Tehran and Doha restrained themselves from issuing ultimatums and displayed preparedness to hear each other. Then, it can work with Saudi Arabia too.

Iran demonstrates signs of readiness to improve relationship or at least to turn from open confrontation back to the mode of moderate contradictions. As for the UAE and Bahrain, it seems that after building the first bridge between Iran and Saudi Arabia they will not object to follow the latter.

Fight for regional supremacy?

If proceeding from the paradigm that “what weakens the opponent’s position is good for me”, then a widening gap among some of the Gulf States could play into Tehran’s hand.

The Gulf crisis has had a reverse effect over ties between Iran and Qatar. After a few hours since the economic blockade initiated by Saudi Arabia, was deployed, Iran opened air corridor through its territory to provide Doha with necessary goods.

Both nations stated that they were going to fully restore diplomatic relations broken off in January 2016. In August 26, 2017 Qatari Embassy officially resumed its activities in Tehran.

Zarif visited Qatar in the heat of the Qatar-GCC dispute which means that Iran is not content to play the role of a driven side but makes its presence felt.

Meanwhile, some contradictory actions among the GCC members strike the eye.

Only three member states cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. GCC citizens have the right to live in any GCC member country. After the diplomatic crisis occurred, Qataris have been banned from living in Bahrain, Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, but the change has not been supported by Kuwait and Oman.

The UAE blames Qatar for its close relations with Iran whereas Emirates themselves keep on having diplomatic and full value trade relations with Tehran. Also, Emirates keep getting gas from Qatar, despite the cut of diplomatic relations.

What is it - lack of unified policy towards Iran? Or, maybe the political rift between Arab states is to Tehran’s credit?

Up to date, the diplomatic crisis round Qatar has looked as a scenic one, as the opposite sides of the dispute in fact are in close communication. But who knows how things are going tomorrow if, for instance, political axis Iran-Qatar-Oman-Yemen will begin to take distinct shape, or Iranian military aides will appear in Qatari military command.

So, official Tehran looks quite sincere in its statements that “neighbors are permanent; geography can't be changed”, but further political developments in the Gulf region will depend not on words but on practical deeds.

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