Saturday, November 30, 2013

Iran's Political Capital and the Pursuit of Resolutions

Mohammad Javad Zarif's real mission has just begun. Iran's foreign minister who successfully spear headed Iran's team during the Geneva negotiations that resulted in an initial six month deal, has his work cut out for him. 

Iran acquired considerable political capital after the successful nuclear deal was signed by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany with Iran. Partial sanctions were lifted, corporations are looking to invest in Iran, Iran's auto industry will receive a significant boost, and 5% enrichment will continue.This diplomatic breakthrough shifted Iran's standing from isolated and sanctioned into an emerging state with considerable domestic industry and international clout. 

While Iran's diplomatic and economic relations with Pakistan and Iraq have been in good standing for more than ten years, Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia have not. Both states clashed over and in Syria. A dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia seems to be a prerequisite before a deal can be reached in the Syrian crisis. The Iranians are heading in that direction by smoothing out relations with Turkey and Egypt in the interim.

The question is how can Iran incorporate its new regional and international political capital to resolve regional files? Iran's role in working on expanding its efforts towards a resolution in the Syrian crisis will help  Iran reposition it as cooperative and solution oriented, rather than the conventional Gulf states perception of Iran as a provocateur.

Foreign minister Zarif has many regional diplomatic trips ahead of him, not that the burden of proving good intentions is solely on Iran, but rather it is a mission of a skilled statesman to invest the acquired political capital where it will bear the most fruit in the long run. The long term strategy is to solidify Iran's new standing with a proactive diplomacy that reaches out of its comfort zone to warm up cold relations.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Iran's Nuclear Deal and Political Independance

When Israel's prime minister Netanyahu called Iran's Nuclear deal with western powers a historical mistake, and when U.S., EU, Iran, UAE and others called it a historical success, both would be correct in that the deal is unprecedented and historical.

The way this deal came to fruition is a marker of our new multi-polar international order, and it translated effectively the U.S.'s transitional position from hegemony. 

The transition to a multi-polar system allows disgruntled states, such as Iran, the political opportunity to assert their rights. Iran has been calling its right to have peaceful nuclear capability, according to international law and the NPT convention, as its "Haq". Iran has achieved that Haq, and the international community legitimized Iran's nuclear program. Far from Iran becoming a U.S. partner or ally, this deal paved the way for much needed cooperation between the U.S. and Iran on crucial regional files, such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. In the larger context, expanding U.S.'s partnerships in the region against terrorism, the strategic priority, is of mutual interest to both U.S. and its allies and Iran and its allies.

This deal also signified the success of negotiation, and finding grounds for mutual interests, preceded by accepting the opponent as an equal... A far cry from the archaic and failed carrot and stick mentality.

The nuclear deal signifies the possibility of the long sought after Political Independence in the region. Ever since Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared in 1978 that the Islamic civilization will also possess nuclear arsenal, in order to not be subject to blackmail, the underlying current to strive for greater political independence and attaining regional power is getting stronger in the Middle East. Iran proved that resisting the subordination of policy to U.S. and western interests is possible. Egypt under al Sissi is taking note and so is Iraq. 

Autonomous policy making and resisting subordination to the west does not translate to becoming an enemy of the U.S. and the west, quiet to the contrary. It is a blunt political stance that implies the need to being treated as an equal, and recognized as having legitimate national interests. For these states coordination and cooperation are the preferred courses of action with great powers. Because only through cooperation and coordination with great powers can these states recognize and legitimize their statues as equals. From a strategic stance; accounting for the U.S.'s proactive management of the historic transition to a multi-polar system, this initial/6 month Nuclear deal qualifies for a win/win statues.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Syria: Rising from the Ashes of the Arab Spring

In the past three years, Tunis, Egypt, Yemen and Libya experienced the Arab Spring triology of uprising, regime change and political stagnation marred with instability and terrorism. The Syrian crisis is closer to one long episode of political and ideological rivalry concerning the future identity of Syria, carried out through a history making carnage. 

What the Syrian crisis has revealed, although not for the first time, is that the Syrian opposition does not understand politics, coalition making, or what negotiations are meant to deliver. The illogical stubbornness of demanding US military intervention, and the failure to come up with plan B other than insisting on depleting every last drop of Syrian lives, treasure and dignity, is a symptom of intellectual and moral deficiency. 

On a practical level, the Syrian opposition, as in the SNC, is still not capable of negotiating a common thread linking all the outside opposition factions, from the leftist to the Islamists. If they are not capable of producing a united group to represent the SNC at Geneva 2, how can we expect them to find common ground with the Syrian Coordination Committee (inside opposition), let alone finding common ground with government representatives?

Well the answer came today from the SNC as they opted against attending Geneva 2. Their insistence on Bashar alAssad ouster before attending Geneva 2 is just a thin veil covering their internal turmoil.

Whether the SNC attends Geneva 2 or not, there are other opposition groups with real on the ground connections to Syria and Syrians; groups committed to putting an end to the crisis, start the rebuilding efforts, and fight the terrorist groups that have spread across Syria.

The international dynamics, after the chemical weapons agreement with the Syrian government, which actively re-legitimized the Syrian government internationally, and the subsequent regional maneuver of Turkey, Iran,Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are reactions to a critical threshold reached by the Syrian government.

1- There is an international consensus that president Bashar al Asad will complete his presidential term until June 2014.
2- The Syrian military is gaining ground, not just in the Damascus suburbs, but also up north near Aleppo. The infighting amongst the Islamists  militia is increasing.  
3-Qatar has played a critical role recently in freeing the nine Lebanese hostages (kidnapped for more than a year) , sending a message of reproachmant to the Syrian government.
4-Turkey has announced that it is actively combating the presence of ISIS and Nusra Front in the north, and no longer allowing the boarder infiltration of weapons and militants.
5- Jordan has sent messages that it is supporting the efforts of fighting terrorism and combating the terrorist groups active in Syria. 
6- Saudi Arabia is slowly adjusting, with some diplomatic fanfare,  to the realities of US-Iranian dialogue and to the increased US support for the Maliki government.   
7-Iran emerged more powerful after the democratic elections which ushered Rohani's presidency that started with a proactive diplomacy towards both US and Saudi Arabia.
8-Egypt, and the counterrevolution of June 30th hastened the departure of the Muslim brotherhood from Arab politics, not just in Egypt. 

The geopolitical developments of the region are not in the SNC's favor, considering that some SNC members still insist that the ISIS and Nusra are fighting for freedom, and that deserting them is deserting the Syrian revolution. 

It is quiet possible that the SNC lacks organizational flexibility to adjust to the facts on the ground. One possibility is that we might see the dissolution of the SNC  and the emergence of individuals from the outside opposition, which later merge with an opposition representative group comprised of the Syrian Coordination Committee and Kurdish representatives. 

The Syrian developments influenced US, Russian and EU diplomacy, and changed the dynamics between regional states. What is clear by now is that the final straw that broke the Arab Spring was delivered in Syria. The ashes of the Arab Spring are most visible through the daily violence and bombings  of al Qaeda affiliated groups in Libya, Sinai,Tunis, Yemen and Syria.

The fallout of the Syrian crisis is slowly merging past adversaries on mutual interest grounds. US and Iran, Turkey and Iran, Egypt, Syria and the Arab states interests are slowly converging and redirecting the compus of the region towards the most pressing security issue of our time, and that is terrorism. 

سوريا حبيبتي...الحرية و الكرامة