By Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin
The Kuwaiti foreign minister’s visit to Tehran on Jan. 25 came as Kuwait was mandated by the recent Gulf summit held in Bahrain to hold the mediation file between the Gulf States and Iran in order to open up a channel for dialogue. However, there are foundations required to create conditions prior to any dialogue with Iran. These foundations can be summed up in the following main points:
1) Change in the Iranian official narrative through the unification of a political narrative by its executive and legislative governmental institutions that could put an end to the current state of duplicity.
2) Change in the Iranian sectarian rhetoric including an end to all forms of sectarian escalation and war of words, and prioritizing the language of interests.
3) Change in Iranian political behavior and crisis containment with the Gulf States and the countries of the region, and opening up a channel for dialogue which requires Iran to show deeds rather than words of good neighboring, non-interference in internal affairs, and respect for the sovereignty of the countries of the region.
The obstacles facing relations with Iran can be viewed in five main issues:
Firstly, the three Emirati islands occupied by Iran (Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa). This issue dates back to 1971. Ever since the islands were occupied by Iran, the UAE together with a number of Arab countries has continuously demanded that Iran end its occupation. In 1992, the issue of the occupied islands became a standing item on the agenda of the Supreme Council and the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) demanding Iran either to end the occupation and engage in direct negotiations with the UAE or to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice. However, Iran remains intransigent in its position.
In 1999, the Ministerial Council of the GCC set up a ministerial committee involving Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the Secretary General of the GCC aimed at developing a mechanism to start direct negotiations to resolve the issue. The GCC member states were looking forward to take Iran’s interaction with the committee as a step toward resolving the issue of the islands. However, Iran failed to interact with that committee. Therefore, the occupied islands remain one of the most divisive issues.
Secondly, interference in the internal affairs of GCC member states and other neighboring states. Almost every statement of the Supreme Council and the Ministerial Council of the GCC rejects the continued Iranian interference in the internal affairs of GCC member states and other neighboring states and calls for a full commitment to the fundamentals and principles of good neighboring and the sovereignty of countries and not using force or posing a threat to them.
Thirdly, support for terrorism through providing shelter, incitement, training or funding. The United States and many other countries accuse Iran of funding terrorism by providing terrorists with equipment, arms, training and shelter. The US State Department’s annual report on terrorism labels Iran “the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism”. Reports also state that “Iran is unwilling to bring senior members of Al-Qaeda on its territories to justice. It also refuses to declare their names. In addition, Iran allowed Al-Qaeda members to operate pipelines through Iranian territories, which enabled Al-Qaeda to obtain funds and an easy flow of operations to and from South Asia”. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also published a detailed statement documenting evidence of Iran’s support for terrorism in the region and in the world, starting from the outbreak of the revolution in 1979. Therefore, resolving this issue would certainly create conditions for opening up fruitful dialogue with Iran.
Fourthly, full implementation of the terms of the nuclear deal. Many leaks point to Iran’s failure to fully implement the terms of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the P5+1. The Institute for Science and International Security refers to some leaks indicating that in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Washington and the P5+1 secretly agreed for Iran to play around some terms of the nuclear deal signed in Vienna last year in order to meet the deadline for the gradual lifting of economic sanctions. The terms include allowing Iran to exceed the prescribed permissible amount of low-enriched uranium stored in its nuclear facilities. The terms also include purification of low-enriched uranium to make it highly-enriched so that it could consequently be used in weapons manufacturing.
Fifthly, the Iranian program for ballistic missiles. Iran still rejects the restrictions imposed on its missile program by the nuclear deal it signed with the world powers. Since the nuclear deal, Iran has carried out six missile tests in flagrant violation of UN Resolution 2231. Iran recently tested a medium-range missile exploded at a distance of 630 miles. Many reports confirm that Iran provides the Houthis of Yemen with different missiles, many of which are fired at Saudi Arabia.
Finally, I believe that agreement on fundamentals of dialogue, followed by transparent discussion of the divisive issues between Iran and the GCC member states would undoubtedly contribute to regional stability.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin