World Review | Could the West partner with Iran to bring peace to the Middle East?

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Could the West partner with Iran to bring peace to the Middle East?

Could the West partner with Iran to bring peace to the Middle East?
Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president elect, has expressed a willingness to open dialogue with the West (photo:dpa)

EUROPE and the United States have an opportunity to consider Iran as an ally for peace in the Middle East as its new ‘moderate’ leader, Hassan Rouhani, prepares to take over its presidency.

Dr Rouhani will be inaugurated on August 3, 2013, as the 11th president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Dr Rouhani is considered a moderate - a centrist, half-way between conservatives, whose allegiance is to the ayatollahs, and reformists. As such, he is seen as the right man for renewing dialogue with a western world that stands close behind Israel.

Having been in charge of negotiations on the nuclear programme in the early 2000s, he has indicated he wants to pursue appeasement with the 5+1 group - the group of countries (China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany) which in 2006 joined diplomatic efforts with Iran over its nuclear programme.

The fact that he has won the election in the first round has also conferred on him a high level of legitimacy in people's and the eyes of Iran’s ayatollahs, which should allow him at least a certain time-margin for manoeuvering towards normalising the Persian state's relations with the rest of the globe.

Iran's decade-long diplomatic isolation has now also been joined by economic isolation, following financial sanctions imposed, in particular, by the European Union and the United States.

This has led in recent years to rampant inflation , the fall of the national currency, the rial, and a surge in unemployment. The country's regional influence has nonetheless grown rather than shrunk. The downfall in 2003 of Saddam Hussein in Iraq reawakened the country's Shiite community, some of whose cadres were formed in Iran a long time ago.

Still holding on, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad needs Iran as an ally more than ever. And the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, which is also imposing itself in Syria as the region's most fearsome political and religious formation, is proof of the diplomatic acumen displayed by Iran, whose armed wing it has become.

An unstable axis has developed from Lebanon to Iran under cover of the incoherent wars carried out by the West and Israel in the past decade.

Iran and the Shiite alliance (extended in this case to include Alawites – centred in Syria) may be the last remaining safeguard in the powder keg that is the Middle East.

It is a fact, however, that the West, particularly France, has in recent times placed its bets on an alliance with Sunni oil-monarchies whose alleged lack of respect for human rights have mostly escaped criticism.

It is now, perhaps, time for Europe's diplomats to understand that this alliance will do more bad than good and that oil-monarchies are a source of discord in the Muslim, Arab and African world.

It is therefore worth asking whether it would not be a better strategy for France, Europe and the United States to deal with Iran, to enter into deep-reaching negotiations with its new president Dr Rouhani and to seek to identify a middle course that would exclude belligerent Islamism and jihad.

Nuclear issues, are a constant stumbling block in the negotiations.

Dr Rouhani has put an agreement signed in 2005 back on the table. It provided for Iran to enrich uranium for civilian purposes in exchange for the country guaranteeing that no military goals would be pursued.Just like the European nations, Iran is an old country in an old continent.

Whatever it may be accused of, its brand of Shiite rule is softer towards minorities or women than Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Sunni Islam.

Shiite Islam has the advantage that it is based on a clearly defined clergy acting as a restraining power on wild interpretations of sharia and of Islam in general. This makes Iran a stable country, autocratic but not tyrannical, with which it is possible to negotiate peacefully.

Alliance with Iran would help restore some sense of order to the volatility in the Middle East.

Charles Millon

Charles Millon is a French politician who served as France’s Minister of Defence from 1995 to 1997 in Alain Juppe’s government and French Ambassador to the United Nations from 2003 to 2007. ...

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