Ataollah Mohajerani is one of the finest Iranian intellectuals I am privileged to know. He is a colleague in this newspaper, and his articles are famed for brightness in meaning and fineness in structure.
He recently wrote a great article in the newspaper about Saudi-Iranian relations. The value of Mohajerani’s words comes—considering his wide knowledge—in his being a former official in the Islamic Republic, where he was a culture minister.
The summary of what Mohajerani wrote is that Saudi–Iranian rapprochement is inevitable to solve the region’s problems, and that this rapprochement is the key to all problems in the region, and there is a history of trust which can be built upon.
Mohajerani focused—and rightfully so—on the efforts of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, because he was the icon of the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, especially with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, since their famous meeting at the Senegal Islamic Summit, when King Abdullah was crown prince, and the continuation of their friendly relationship, crowned by the Tehran summit in 1997, which was supported by Saudi Arabia.
King Abdullah returned the favor by strengthening relations with Iran, despite the differences between Saudi policies and Iran’s revolutionary policies, which were exemplified by the Iran-Iraq war.
In 1998, Saudi Arabia welcomed Rafsanjani and his family who arrived to make the Umrah pilgrimage. Rafsanjani and his family were afforded special hospitality by King Abdullah, and when a preacher recklessly insulted the Shi’ite sect in front of Rafsanjani, he was immediately suspended.
King Abdullah’s approach was based on opening dialogue on the sectarian level between Sunnis and Shi’ites, and at political level with Iran.
It is not Saudi Arabia, or King Abdullah specifically, that is the reason for the distrust of Iran, but the policies of Iran itself and its followers in the region.
Talking of Iran’s followers in the region, the Lebanese group Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah lost his cool a few days ago when he launched a scathing attack on Saudi Arabia. His usual diplomacy disappeared. However, what is amazing is that Nasrallah said: “Saudi Arabia’s problem with Iran is not sectarian.” He means that it is a political problem and a conflict of interests.
This is exactly what the discussion should be confined to. The problem is political not spiritual, but the followers of Nasrallah everywhere give the conflict a religious hue, much the same as others like them within the Sunni sect, to make the problem more deep rooted.
Gulf states have welcomed the change in Iran with Rouhani’s arrival, and everyone is talking about Saudi Arabia’s reaction, from Lebanon’s Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and even Nasrallah. However, there is no talk about the real differences between the two country’s over Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain.
The differences are great and deep, but there is nothing that cannot be resolved, as long as there are good intentions, as Saudi Arabia said.
The problem is in what is not being said, not in what is.