Iran`s overture
BY A . G . N O O R A N I | 5/16/2015

THE article which Iran`s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif contributed to The New York Times last month was a diplomatic overture; pregnant with meaning and precise in its formulations.

The parameters of a nuclear deal, which Iran settled with the P5+1 countries at Lausanne, are to be fleshed out in a final agreement by the end of June. In the US, the powerful Israeli lobby has gone to work to revive ghosts of the past.

The stakes are very high and the omens are propitious provided that the US views Iran as an opportunity, not as a hurdle.

Foreign Minister Zarif`s article shows the way out. It bears all the marks of intense diplomatic homework by Iran`s Foreign Office; for it shuns generalities and makes instead, seven specific offers.

First and foremost, comes the hint of a grand bargain covering the entire region.

`The purview of our constructive engagement extends beyond nuclear negotiations.

Secondly, it covers Iran`s relations with its neighbours and specifically `the causes of tension in the wider Persian Gulf region`.

Thirdly, a `holistic` approach must be adopted. `One cannot confront Al Qaeda and its ideological siblings, such as the so-called Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state, in Iraq, while effectively enabling their growth in Yemen and Syria. There are multiple arenas where the interests of Iran and other major stakeholders intersect.

Ergo, there is no clash of interest but ample ground for a settlement.

Fourthly, Foreign Minister Zarif makes a precise proposal: `The establishment of a collective forum for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, to facilitate engagement, is long overdue.` Fifthly, the situation in Yemen is `a good place to start. Iran has offered a reasonable and practical approach to address this painful and unnecessary crisis. Our plan calls for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian assistance and facilitation of intra-Yemeni dialogue, leading to the formation of an inclusive, broad-based national unity government.

Sixthly, Zarif proposed that regional dialogue in the Persian Gulf must address specific issues `confidence and security building measures; combating terrorism, extremism and sectarianism; ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of oil and other resources; and protection of the environment. A regional dialogue could eventually include more formal non-aggression and security cooperation arrangements.

Lastly, the dialogue should be `kept to relevant regional stakeholders, existing institutional frameworks for dialogue, and especially the United Nations, must be utilised.

The secretary-general could furnish the necessary international umbrella. A regional role for the United Nations, already envisaged in the Security Council resolution that helped end the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

This was a reference to Resolution 598 of July 20, 1987 which imposed a ceasefire under Articles 39 and 40 of the UN Charter.

Para 8 of the resolution enjoined the UN secretary-general `to examine in consultation with Iran and Iraq and other states of the region measures to enhance the security and stability of the region`.

Zarif`s formulations leave considerable play at the joints. Apart from the countries in the Persian Gulf, the US and Russia cannot be excluded; to mention just two obvious `stakeholders`. Others whose interests would be affected should be invited as observers with a right to express their views even if they are not to sign the regional security pact.

This is by no means a novel initiative. In May 2003, Iran sent to the US a proposal on broadly similar lines. It was conveyed through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran Tim Guldimann who watched over US interests. When he went to Washington D.C., he was reprimanded. The document is astonishing in its sweep. As Trita Parsi wrote in his documented work Single roll of the dice `The proposal astonished the Americans. ... In a dialogue of `mutual respect`, the lranians offered to end their support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and pressure them to cease attacks on Israel. On Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shiite group in Lebanon that Iran had helped to create, Tehran offered to support its disarmament and transform it into a purely political party. ... On terrorism, Tehran offered full cooperation against all terrorist organisations above all, Al Qaeda.

Iran would work actively with the US to support political stabilisation and the establishment of a non-sectarian government in Iraq. It would accept the Beirut Declaration of the Arab League that is, the Saudi peace plan from March 2002, in which the Arab states proffered collective peace with Israel.

The US missed an opportunity in 2003. It would be tragic if Zarif`s overture in 2015 is ignored; for, none of the problems in the region Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan can be solved without the participation of Iran whose clout is certain to grow with time. •
The writer is an author and a lawyer