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Will Al-Salehi Repair Relations? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It was notable that the first statement issued by the new Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, focussed on the need to improve his country’s relations with two of its neighbours: Saudi Arabia and Turkey. At a time when relations with Turkey are considered to be at their best for 30 years, relations with Saudi Arabia have reached a new low, and are likely to deteriorate further. Ousted minister Manouchehr Mottaki was not the cause of such deterioration, and thus it would be wrong to think that his dismissal would remove the obstacles between the two countries.

Two issues are behind this silent crisis: Firstly, there is rising Iranian influence in the Arab region. Hezbollah is besieging the Lebanese government and crippling the country, whilst in Gaza, Hamas is acting contrary to the interests of the Palestinian Authority. In Iraq, the winners of the recent government election have been marginalized by a coalition which Iran has imposed upon all Iraqis. Bahrain is suffering a state of disorder at the hands of groups affiliated to Iran, and the Iranians have also supported the Houthis in Yemen, who launched attacks against Saudi Arabia. All these incidents form a large map of Iranian activity in the Middle East, which is hostile towards Saudi Arabia. Secondly, there is the issue of the Iranian nuclear file, a subject in which Minister al-Salehi specializes. Iran’s nuclear capabilities are considered the primary threat to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.

Can the new minister do something about this mountain of complex problems between the two countries?

Certainly, Iran is the only party capable of ending the causes of tension between the two countries, or indeed with all countries in the region. Saudi Arabia has nothing more to offer. The Kingdom took the initiative in terms of reconciliation 10 years ago, when it changed its policy and restored relations with the governments of [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, and then [Mohammad] Khatami. Saudi Arabia also opened its airspace for flights between the two countries and hosted Iranian trade missions, contrary to American advice, which sought to tighten the grip on the Iranian government, and suspend its nuclear program. Unfortunately however, Tehran seemed to misinterpret these Saudi concessions. Subsequently, Iran turned into a savage monster in the Arab region, sheltering al-Qaeda leaders, and intensifying its development of nuclear weapons.

During the era of Minister Mottaki, relations did indeed deteriorate, but the minister himself was not responsible. Rather it was the policy of Ahmadinejad, who has persisted with his political manoeuvres, in a manner not witnessed in the Arab world since the 1960s.

Is it possible after all this to repair the broken relations? The matter has now gone beyond the capabilities of the new Iranian Foreign Minister, and has reached a stage where the intentions of the leadership in Tehran must change.