The world faces different crises all the time, and each generation feels its crises to be the biggest. But nobody can ignore the fact that recent developments in certain parts of the world are having a major impact on the relations between nations and peoples.
The recent North Korean missile tests, the terrorist attack on trains in India, the nuclear standoff with Iran, massive sectarian turmoil in Iraq, oil prices at unprecedented levels, the capture of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and Israeli raids into Lebanon that have resulted in the deaths of more than 200 civilians — these are just a few examples of the crises humanity is facing today.
There are two ways to deal with these developments. One is to impose unilateral solutions that concentrate on only a small part of the world community, and that benefit only a slice of the world’s population, such as Western countries. The other way is to approach these problems from a holistic point of view, with the participation of different actors, and with the aim of benefiting a greater number of nations, including those in Asia and the Middle East.
It seems that most of the crises in the Eastern Hemisphere, and the propositions for solving them at the state level, involve two common players: the United States and Iran. There have been plenty of analyses of America’s position as the only superpower, but less on Iran’s role as a regional power in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian region, and Central and Western Asia.
If you look at the performance of Iran’s Islamic Republic, it is clear despite all of the difficulties it has faced — the problems, the turmoil and the wars all around Iran — the system has survived. This is not accidental; rather, it shows that the Iranian system has checks and balances — think tanks and consultative bodies, as well as other structures and processes for rational decision-making — that permit the system to achieve optimum results.
If it is true that Iran is a major player in the turbulent areas of the Middle East and in the energy market, then why can we not use the influence of such a country to help establish regional order and solve global crises?
The major global crises the world is facing can be divided into three categories: terrorism, nuclear and energy.
When it comes to terrorism, the problem is mainly rooted in extremism. Extremism exists not only in the Muslim world, but also in Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. The demise of terrorism inside Muslim communities is not possible without the participation of religious leaders and statesmen. As a country with a stable government, which includes the participation of respected Muslim clerics, Iran has a good reputation in the Islamic world, and so Iran can be influential in the war against terrorism.
Insurgencies can be classified into two categories. The first is those groups that Iran and the United States agree to be terrorist organizations. These include Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hizb-ul Tahrir in Central Asia, Sepah Sahabeh in Pakistan, and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. The elimination of terrorism by these groups suits Iran, and so Iran is ready to cooperate in the areas of media relations, social affairs, intelligence and perhaps even military strikes. Iran has vast amounts of intelligence and information on these groups, having monitored their activities and their predecessors’s going as far back as several decades.
The second form of insurgencies includes those groups about which the United States and Iran can have a legitimate disagreement over their characterization as terrorist organizations. These include Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
However, even with this category Iran could be a key to moderating their activities, because Iran has some influence over these groups. For example, while I personally believe the recent exacerbation of the conflict in Lebanon was the consequence of overreaction by Israel — specifically the aggressive display by Israeli warplanes over President Bashar Assad’s summer palace in Latakia — there is no doubt that Iran weilds a great deal of influence over Hezbollah.
Ultimately, the conflict with Lebanon cannot be resolved without some form of political compromise, and Iran has showed in the past that it can play a constructive role in calming the region — as it did in 1993 and again in 1996, in the negotiation of a cease-fire agreement and exchange of prisoners between Lebanon and Israel. In Palestine, Iran can also play a constructive role and help reach a compromise, since other players in that conflict recognize the Islamic Republic as an influential force for stability in the region, while persistent attacks by Israel on the Occupied Territories have in the past merely deteriorated the situation.
Regarding the nuclear issue, Iran is seeking a face-saving resolution that maintains a minimum degree of access to nuclear technology inside Iran. The incentives proposed to Iran by the “5+1 group” — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany — are exactly the sort of things that Iran’s economy and industries need. Iran simply wants to see better-defined and better-clarified terms in the incentive offer, something that is not very hard for the other side to provide. Addressing Iran’s nuclear concerns can only strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty and ease the way for new steps to be taken together in the global effort against the threats posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear stockpiles.
Finally, regarding the energy issue it should be noted Iran has the second-largest proven oil and gas reserves in the world. There are still vast regions in Iran with oil potential that have not been studied in the past because of political conditions or technology limitations.
Iran’s energy capabilities on oil, gas, pipelines, electrical power plants and its access to neighboring countries are unique. Iran has common oil and gas fields with 10 of its neighbors and can exchange electricity with all 15 neighbors. Working in Iran’s oil and gas field means better accessibility to Iraqi, Persian Gulf and Caspian Basin fields. Any easing of America’s hard sanctions against investment on Iran’s oil sector will tend to improve the crisis situation in world energy prices. International oil companies are ready to engage in business and energy cooperation between Iran and the United States, which will have a positive impact on both the world economy and energy security.
Every war ultimately ends with talks. Regional stability serves the interests of Iran, the United States and the rest of the world. Iran is a key player in its region, and can employ its legitimate influence toward calming the situation. Iran and United States have many interests in common, and the two nations can ultimately overcome their differences by emphasizing their common interests.