The time has come for the US government to recognize that Iran does indeed have a legitimate and important role to play in the region. Cooperation between Iran and the United States would not be unprecedented. Sustainable security and stability in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria requires both Washington and Tehran’s cooperation.
by Dr. Fariborz Saremi
The Middle East is currently in a state of major upheaval. Without effective leadership, the region could easily slip into massive chaos that would leave it almost permanently unstable. The two major powerbrokers in the region, the United States and Iran need to find constructive ways of establishing their mutual interests in the region and of ensuring that they cooperate on consolidating peace.
The United States has had a longstanding interest in the Middle East but has tended to try and dominate rather than cooperate. The US strategy has been based on flawed thinking and has led to Washington becoming estranged from the region’s people. This has led to distrust and division rather than a sense of security and unity. Resulting strategic imbalances in the region have fueled intra-regional tensions. The time has therefore come for the US government to recognize that Iran does indeed have a legitimate and important role to play in the region. After all, Iran finds itself in an important geopolitical location.
Cooperation between Iran and the United States would not be unprecedented. They have worked together to stabilize both Iraq and Afghanistan at different times. Both before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran Saddam led Iraq was viewed as Iran’s most dangerous rival. Indeed tensions were exploited with Saddam to eventually provoke the Iran-Iraq war 1980-1988 in which there were over two million casualties.
Since then Iran has benefited significantly from the US invasion of Iraq, developing close ties with the current Shia government, which is also an ally of the government in Washington. Sustainable security and stability in Iraq requires both Washington and Tehran’s cooperation.
Such cooperation has been considerably more notable in Afghanistan subsequent to the 9/11 attacks. Iran has not only provided major diplomatic input as an essential interlocutor but also aided American efforts by making arms, supplies and tactical advice available to the Northern alliance in its efforts to defeat al- Qaeda and subdue the Taliban. Iran is essential to any efforts to limit the conflict in Afghanistan.
And indeed these efforts have had some success. The Taliban have been removed from government, al-Qaida has been severely weakened and has lost a lot of its ideological, tactical and financial support from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Moreover, and to Iran’s considerable advantage, the US has suffered a grave loss of influence in the region and at home. Its economy and population have been demoralized by the trillions in dollars it has cost and the huge casualties sustained. Nevertheless, Iran-US cooperation is essential for sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
The latest challenge to regional stability and relations between Iran and the US is the conflict in Syria. Two alliances have developed with radically different aims. An eastern alliance containing Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, and the Assad government is trying to fend off a Salafist and a western alliance attempt to overthrow Assad’s government. This western alliance includes the US, the EU, Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Both sets of sponsors have provided physical support in the shape of funds and weaponry and intangible support in the form of intelligence and political encouragement. Iran is a long-term ally of Syria and has been a cornerstone of the Moscow-Beijing led support for the regime there, much to the ire of the western powers.
Nevertheless, America’s continuing dependence on oil and gas ensure that it is tied to the region’ affairs. It has been estimated that the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea contain around 50% of the world’s oil resources and 40% of the world’s oil exports. Iran can seriously influence the US’s access to those resources. There are numerous ways in which Iran and the US can promote each other’s mutual interests while simultaneously ensuring sustained security in the region: they can improve their economic ties in all industrial sectors, most especially in the oil and gas industries; they can ensure that US troops can leave the region sooner rather later by stabilizing peace and security in Afghanistan; they can prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass-destruction; they can ensure that Israel does not produce mass chaos in the region by pursuing military action against Iran; they can promote cultural understanding by improving cultural and diplomatic exchange and; finally, they can help Iran develop the tools to relieve tension within the Middle East.
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