Sunday, February 2, 2014

Iranian Foreign Policy: The Charm of a Smile

Dr. Leila Nicolas
Even most optimists couldn't predict that Iran will quickly be a welcomed guest at the international forums, that the Iranian foreign minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, hardly settles one week in Tehran, traveling from a European city to another, where he exchanges smiles and kind words with his European counterparts.

It seems that the Iranians were not interested in attending Geneva II conference held in Montreux, as they already knew that the negotiations will not lead to any solution or even the beginning of a solution. Weeks before the conference, it was clear - esp. after what had been leaked of the meetings between the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, and the opposition figures in Istanbul-that the conference is doomed to fail.
In a place that’s not very far from where the Geneva II conference is being held, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was the star of the World Economic Forum in Davos, completing his strategy of "charm offensive" aimed to invite western businessmen to invest in Iran as it has the potential to be in the top ten economies in the world in the next three decades, as he said.

Highly applauded by an audience who clearly wanted to hear this speech, Mr. Rouhani said "constructive engagement" was "one of the pillars" of the policy of his government, and pledged that his country has no intentions of possessing nuclear weapons. In addition to the President, the Iranian foreign minister Zarif had the chance to express his country's views about regional issues especially about the Syrian crisis.
Even in the Munich Security Conference, Zarif had the chance to meet John Kerry and Catherine Ashton, who described the meeting with Zarif  as “really interesting”.

In addition to the non-provocative Iranian speeches, Iran clings to many powerful key cards that can be used in increasing its regional influence. It also benefits from a strategic geographical position. The Iranians have influence over many powerful groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and primarily Afghanistan. The most prominent key card carried by the Iranian negotiators is the Afghani one. The good relationship and high influence of Iran on the Afghani president Hamid Karzai, gives them the ability to influence the pace of signing the security agreement between USA and Karzai, who stressed he will not sign before the presidential elections in April. Many believe that the key to signing the agreement is in Iranian hands, but Iran does not seem willing to give Washington free gains.

To sum it up, it seems that Iran is preparing grounds for bolstering political, economic cooperation with other countries, which can lead it to be a regional superpower especially in the wake that the Arab states are preoccupied by their internal problems, and this is what the Saudis are afraid of. Sure, the solution should be heading towards mutual respect, regional cooperation and legitimate competition.

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