Iran’s New Regional Politics
By: Kaveh Afrasiabi
Exclusive Interview with Mostafa Dolatyar
Afrasiabi: President Rouhani has stated that the recent nuclear agreement goes beyond the nuclear issue. Please elaborate.
Dolatyar: Taking into consideration the very complex security situation in the region, i.e. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, to name a few, and taking note of the very fact that Iran could be a very helpful hand to address this “security complex”, there is no other choice indeed, for the US and its allies, but to ask Iran to join in for a collective effort. However, they also know that for this collective effort to be materialized, they have to create the necessary atmosphere and the appropriate ground for cooperation. 2014 is the year in which Iran would be asked to join in for ‘collective effort’ to address these hot points in the region. Indeed, they have no other choice but to take Iran ‘on board’ and to extend the scope of the negotiations.
Afrasiabi: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has prioritized the relations with Iran's Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf. What needs to be done to reach mutual progress in this important foreign policy area?
Dolatyar: Maintaining good and stable relations with the neighbors has always been a priority in Iran’s foreign policy. However, foreign intervention has been a source of instability in our very neighborhood and this is still the case. We are a happy nation within our internationally recognized borders. We have no territorial disputes with our neighbors. We have consistently advocated for a grass-root regional cooperation to safeguard the security, independence, freedom, sustainable development, and dignity of all the people and nations in our region. We have always tried our best to convince our neighbors that the best approach is to create a ‘home grown’ mechanism for having a secured regional environment, rather than looking outward to foreign powers to import ‘always-conditional- security’. Taking into consideration the colonialist and imperialistic legacy of almost all of these foreign powers, this is now a conventional wisdom in the region that neither ‘imported security’ nor ‘military-based approach to security’ would be sustainable. This ‘chronically-failed-policy’ is the real source of ‘insecurity’ in the Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf.
However, it goes without saying, for any relation there are two sides. Whatever Iran do would not be sufficient, as long as the other side could not reconsider its current approach. Indeed, we need a shift of paradigm in the region toward security, development, governance and regionalism. The era of military-based security, oil-oriented development, rentier governance, and trans-regional interference is gone. We all need a new homogenous mechanism to address the concerns and interests of all the peoples and nations in our region based on the real interests of the region, not based on the wishes and interests of outsiders who have repeatedly proved that, at the end of the day, they are too obsessed with their own ‘interests’ to be able to see the legitimate interests of the regional countries.
Afrasiabi: Given the upcoming Geneva summit on Syria next January, is Iran interested in participating and, if so, what is the likely contribution of Iran to this summit?
Dolatyar: I think Iran has significant capacity to be a very helpful hand to address the Syrian crisis in an appropriate peaceful manner. However, we should not ask anyone for being invited. This is up to those who want to have a successful outcome to see how they could manage it without Iran. As the UN Secretary General and the Special Envoy on Syria Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi have repeatedly confirmed, neglecting the effective role of Iran, as a strong regional power, would not be conducive to any substantive result in Geneva. All the observers understand that Iran enjoys a very rich social capital and an extensive soft power in the region, emanating from the strong discourse of the Islamic Revolution which consistently insists on ‘independence’, ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ at home and beyond. Neglecting or denying this power is self-defeating. It’s not just for the Syrian case; this fact is applicable to all other regional issues.
Afrasiabi: What are Iran's expectations of the future prospects for Afghanistan, in light of the upcoming elections and the planned withdrawal of foreign forces? Are you optimistic about the future stability of Afghanistan and low-risk of spillover conflict?
Dolatyar: I think the US has no exit strategy for Afghanistan. They never had it from the outset of their intervention. They want to remain there. However, they are looking for new ways and means to minimize the cost of their presence in Afghanistan. They have been in Afghanistan for 12 years now, with a free hand to do whatever they could, with a whole-hearted support of NATO and a wide-range backing coalition. The fact is that some of US ‘allies’ are not ready or able to continue their un-conditional support anymore. At the same time, the circumstances in Afghanistan seem too risky to leave it in such a mess. The consequences for the US and its allies would be too dire to overlook.
As for the election, Afghan nation has no better choice but to have a fair and constitutionally safe and sound election. However, it seems that the US is taking this election hostage and as a bargaining chip in its dealing with the Afghan Government and the potential candidates for the next presidency.
All in all, if the US and its allies live up to their responsibilities to empower, in real terms, the Afghan people and government to take care of themselves and take the control of their country, the dream of having a safe, stable and sustainably peaceful Afghanistan will come true. As the major next-door neighbor, Iran will be available to make its contribution to help this dream come true. However, the main responsibility is on the US and its allies to pave the ground for this to happen. Otherwise, any ‘spillover’ would definitely not be confined to the region and will reach the West.
Afrasiabi: The region's non-state actors, some of them extremists and sectarian in nature, appear to be gaining momentum. Is Iran concerned about this development and what can be done about it?
Dolatyar: Extremism is indeed an imported phenomenon in this region. Those who have supported extremist elements have already paid a big price for that and, if insist on this policy, they will continue to pay for it in the future. Supporting extremist tendencies is a ‘lose-lose game’. Iran, needless to say, as the most stable country in the region, has its own interest in the promotion of moderation and rationality in its neighborhood and beyond. The new initiative of President Rouhani at the UN GA for mobilizing the world against violence and extremism was a clear signal from the Iranian side which was welcomed by the international community.
*Dr. Mostafa Dolatyar is currently advisor and senior research fellow at the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran. Holding a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. He has published numerous works and studies in the field, from which “The Legal Regime of International Straits: With Emphasis on the Legal Issues of the Hormuz Strait” 1993, “Water Politics in the Middle East: A Context for Conflict or Cooperation?” 2000, and “Sustainable Security in the Middle East: NATO' Role?”, 2011, can be mentioned. He has also been a contributor for publications such as the “Journal of Foreign Policy”, “Conflict, Security and Development”, “Environmental Politics”, “Iranian Journal of International Affairs”, and “Turkish Policy Quarterly”.
Key Words: Iran, New Regional Politics, Complex Security Situation, Middle East, Persian Gulf, Trans-Regional Interference, Afghanistan, NATO, US, Dolatyar